At the end of 2020, we were joined by Dr Eva Sharpe as our first Head of Strategic Engagement.
Having settled into her new role, we sat down with Eva to find out who she is and what her role entails.
“I’m a biochemist by background, and I left lab research ten years ago to move into science policy and communication. These first two months at the John Innes Centre have been really interesting finding out about the incredible plant and microbial science here.
As well as finding out about the research, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people and the organisation and working out where my new role fits into our institute’s priorities and the bigger picture.
My role is very outward facing, building on our existing relationships with a variety of our external audiences including funders, policy makers, partners and the public – so there are a few different strands to the role.
I see my role as sitting between our researchers and management and policy makers and helping to communicate between the two groups.
I will work closely with staff across the institute to make sure that the lines that we take on policy issues are accurate and credible. I’ll also be working closely with the Communications and Engagement team to ensure that our different communications activities are joined up.
It’s also important to work in partnership with other organisations so we speak in a clear strong voice as a sector on issues that affect us all.
One area I’ll initially be focusing on is developing our policy and public affairs approach – identifying which issues are important to us and contributing to policy discussions so we can help shape the research environment that we work in.
This could involve science policy topics such as how science is funded or how immigration policy affects science, or more specific areas of policy that affect how our research is regulated.
Public affairs activities really give an organisation a voice on research policy issues, so we can inform and influence the funding and regulatory environment that directly affects research and how research is translated into practical applications.
For example the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently consulting on how genetic technologies are regulated and so we want to be involved in that discussion.
I’m also going to be talking to politicians about our ambitious vision in our new joint research strategy with The Sainsbury’s Laboratory – Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet or HP³, and our plans to create a world leading UK plant and microbial science hub on site at the Norwich Research Park.
Before joining the John Innes Centre, I spent many years at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London – a specialist cancer research institute where I was Deputy Director – Policy and Engagement and led a small team working on science policy and public affairs, stakeholder management, science information and public engagement.
A lot of my work at the ICR focused on cancer research policy, but I also worked on broader science policy issues which will be very similar across research institutes like the ICR and here at the John Innes Centre.
My team at the ICR was embedded within a wider Communications and Policy directorate, so I worked closely with different parts of the team and used several different channels of communications to open new routes for gaining policy impact, for example through media briefings and digital campaigning.
I am a scientist at heart and so working in science –even though I have left the lab – is important to me and I get job satisfaction from working somewhere that delivers such strong impact.
In my interactions with policy makers I’ll be making the case for plant sciences and microbiology and how they can address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, so it helps that the plant and microbial science at the John Innes Centre is so incredible.
When I read the new ‘Healthy Plants – Healthy People – Healthy Planet’ strategy, it was clear that the organisation really values engaging with partners like policy makers and the public as a way to help deliver its impact.
I’m excited about getting started and helping to do that.