Where Do I Sit in the Double Helix Model?

Where Do I Sit in the Double Helix Model?

This blog post by IPPO’s policy advisor discusses the observatory’s approach to policy engagement. The ‘double-helix’ structure is a demand-led, iterative model developed by IPPO.

Katrina Rattu

As the Policy Advisor in the IPPO project I am often asked what works to promote the interaction between research and policy?

This is a tricky question to answer given the infancy of the project and the newness of the observatory model.

Perhaps, a more useful question to ask is where my role sits within our double helix model, as described here.

Our model revolves around the constant iteration between supply and demand.

I occupy the middle space working to bridge the gap between the between supply and demand on a daily basis.

Here are my reflections from working in this space.

Navigating the natural tensions that exist between supply and demand

Bridging the gap between demand and supply means navigating the natural tensions that arise from the constant push and pull between the two. Demand is never linear and presents itself in informal and formal ways and being able to tease out key themes, trends and patterns from the general policy landscape is a specialised skill.

There will always be tension in knowing how to match the policy landscape with the existing evidence base. This involves being able to distil knowledge in a concise and convincing way in order to form academic review questions that deliver outcomes that are of use to policy stakeholders.

To navigate these tensions, we try to embed the ‘supply team’ into policy engagement activities so they are able to hear first-hand the views from policy makers. This also ensures they are on-hand to answer the more technical and gritty questions regarding topics such as methodology and why setting the parameters of a research question is important.

I have found this process to be useful in explaining key concepts in research to policy stakeholders who regularly lack the time and absorptive capacity to understand the finer points of social sciences research.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) considerations

IPPO was set up to help mitigate the negative societal impacts of COVID-19 and it is obvious that those who have been disproportionately affected need to be involved in the shaping of the demand and supply of a review.

We identify community groups and those with lived experience, and bring them into the iteration process between demand and supply.

For example, for the COVID-19 Public Inquiries international roundtables our lead in Wales, professor Chris Taylor identified the Welsh COVID-19 Bereaved Family Groups as speakers. They were invited to attend to share their views on the design of Public Inquiries and how they should include the experiences of bereaved families and in turn this shaped the scope of the workstream.

Being in the middle of the double helix model also allows me to bring in wider EDI considerations into the mapping of stakeholders. Traditional stakeholder mapping techniques that prioritise influence and visibility, often leads to the identification of senior stakeholders as those to engage with, despite our understanding that a lack of diversity in the policy community is an issue.

A way of counteracting this is to include voices from those in less senior roles as well as those with lived experience. For example, during our ‘two years on’ event we mixed high profile national and regional speakers with a young person regarding youth employment. By doing so, the experiences of high profile policy stakeholders were able to be illustrated with a first-hand account. I also identified those who have written articles, reports, recorded podcasts and/or with a certain social media following, who may not necessarily have convening power just yet, but by giving them a platform with high profile names and with an influential audience, it in turn paves the way for more speaking opportunities.

Strategic thinking and innovation in engagement

Sitting in the middle of the double helix model means that I have had almost two years of experience trying out new and innovative ways of engaging with stakeholders from across supply and demand.

For each workstream I have advised, I have tried to be as strategic and purposeful as possible. This includes sequencing conversations so supply and demand can work better together and aligning our work with IPPO’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework.

For example, the current workstream on Social Capital has implemented a variety of mechanisms to enable the constant iteration between supply and demand. This includes:

  • A steering group made up of those with expertise from academia and service design – blending rich experiences with academic rigour.
  • Roundtables with agendas underpinned with key questions for each agenda item that forwards the progress of the review including time for unstructured discussion. This also includes an audience that has been purposefully put together so a variety of perspectives are in the room.
  • 1-2-1’s with policy stakeholders including local government, the Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector (VCFS) and the third sector to complement the above.

These were also purposely chosen so that they also clearly align with our MEL framework that is underpinned by the outcomes of demand, supply and relationship building including their accompanying metrics and indicators.


I hope that by sharing the above three lessons learned as a result of sitting in the middle of the double helix model it will add to the body of work that is knowledge exchange.

Sitting in this space comes with its challenges and tensions but also the opportunity to rethink what is possible when looking to bridge the gap between research and policy and by extension, helping those respond to complex policy challenges with evidence-led policy making.