Blog by Professor Martin Reeves, LARIA Honorary President

Published: 16 December 2021

It’s our Time!


The pandemic has arguably forced a decade of changing work practices and patterns into a single year. I don’t need to rehearse this here, as how people are working remotely, hybrid (whatever that really means) and using digital tools that they never realised existed, is at the forefront of most of our professional and personal conversations.

So, this got me thinking, with my LARIA Honorary President hat on, as to what all of this has meant and will mean in the near future for our brilliant research, intelligence and insight communities across public services.

As I have written about previously to LARIA members, in many ways, the challenging period of the pandemic has provided our professional colleagues with the deserved opportunity to be metaphorically up on stage with the rest of the band rather than being destined forever backstage crew or in the wings. The power and importance of data and evidenced-based policy formulation and decision-making has become understood, particularly at a local level, if not always at a national level. The rapid retrieval of data, its analysis and interpretation and then presentation in clear, digital, infographic formats will be one of the enduring, positive memories of the past 18 months.

The industry, skill and application of the research community have all been amplified during the most acutely challenging of times and the profession has not, in the main, been found wanting or lacking. LARIA should take credit for providing the learning and support networks and platforms for this working at a local level, which has led to rapid evaluation, strong impact and in my view, a more robust, flexible and resilient profession.

The systems for collecting, storing, analysing and presenting data and research are of course more sophisticated than ever. Working remotely and independent of location has created very few, if any major challenges, with respect to access to legacy systems and databases. Just reflect a moment on how the skill to share our screens and present, often with detailed information and insight, has radically improved as we have been navigating through this virtual world.

So, there are many reasons to be cheerful for the heightened profile of what we do and what we have advocated tirelessly for over many years. BUT, this is not all plain sailing. I have always said, including at a couple of keynote presentations I have given at the LARIA conferences over the years, that what we do must be thought of as a contact sport and not a virtual reality. I know it’s a phrase I use too often, it is true ‘tho and what concerns me is dislocation from the places that we want to help shape and the communities we are determined to enhance, through their eyes and not ours.

So whilst our roles can be remote and often very powerfully so, there is no substitute for immersion in our places, connection and re-connection with all our professional and political colleagues who also care deeply about our place, but above all the people that we serve. This simply cannot be done effectively and productively through anything else other than 3D. Screens and the impenetrability of the virtual world take away so much of that humanity and inhibits the creative and visceral connection which makes the real, lasting difference.

The key in my view therefore is to hold on to the positive outcomes arising from such a dreadfully awful pandemic and for us all to commit to re-connection. By doing this, we have more than a fighting chance to promote the value of evidence and insight being locked into our policy and practice on the ground as we re-imagine what more prosperous, fairer, more equal and greener places should look like in the future.

Professor Martin Reeves

Honorary President, LARIA

Chief Executive, Coventry City Council