New Cambridge institute to tackle policy challenges in our age of disruption

By agency reporter
April 16, 2018

A major gift from Cambridge alumnus and philanthropist Peter Bennett has enabled the launch of a groundbreaking new institute at the University of Cambridge dedicated to researching solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing society in the 21st century.

The Bennett Institute for Public Policy has been founded to address the new patterns of inequality and social unrest emerging around the globe, while training the policy-makers of tomorrow.

Its researchers will investigate the ways in which scientific or technical expertise and policy choices interrelate, in a world where so many now feel that the economic and political odds are stacked against them.

Led by inaugural Director, Professor Michael Kenny, and the Bennett Professor of Public Policy, economist Diane Coyle, the Institute will combine fundamental research and rigorous analysis with the search for new practical solutions to challenges such as the digital divide, resource scarcity and the need for more equitable growth.

“We live in an age of unprecedented disruption. More and more people are disenchanted with politics, and many feel that the rules of the economic game are rigged. At the same time, technological innovations and breakthroughs in scientific knowledge are gathering speed,” said Professor Kenny.

“Public policy thinking needs to engage much more deeply with the challenges which these trends pose. It is time to set aside the ingrained assumption that there are technical fixes or ready-made solutions to our most intractable problems.”

“We want the new Institute to become one of the primary academic venues across the world for understanding these changes and devising responses to them. It will offer a unique combination of deep research, high-level training and effective policy engagement.”

The Bennett Institute aims to blend Cambridge’s world-class research in technology and science with analysis of the political dimensions of policy. Based at the Department of Politics and International Studies, it will be launching interdisciplinary research programmes on policy challenges in different parts of the world – from California to Calcutta, as well as in the city of Cambridge itself.

The Institute is already establishing research projects on the constitutional future of the UK and Ireland post-Brexit and the increasing role of ‘GovTech’ as states grapple with digital technologies.

The territory linking the knowledge our societies produce with the decisions taken by policymakers is becoming harder than ever to navigate, says Professor Coyle.

“The tensions between expertise and public participation are an unavoidable feature of our complex, technology-powered global world. Universities have a vital civic role to play in this context, ensuring that their accumulated expertise and new knowledge contribute to the development of solutions to significant policy challenges.”

“The trend toward the creation of new independent policy institutes such as the Bennett Institute marks the growing recognition of this responsibility by the academic world. There could not be a more important time to be launching this endeavour.”

Peter Bennett established the Peter Bennett Foundation in 2012 to seek innovative ways to reduce poverty and promote equality. He has a long-standing belief in the role of public policy as the most effective way to reach solutions to major social issues.

He said: “It has long been my vision to see a global institute that can work to address one of the greatest challenges of our age – that for so many of the world’s citizens, the economic and political odds are stacked against them.”

“The Bennett Institute for Public Policy will harness the remarkable research in technology and science at Cambridge with the economic and political dimensions of policy-making. I am confident that under the leadership of Michael Kenny and Diane Coyle, it will be a leading force in achieving sustainable solutions to some of our most pressing global problems.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said: “This is a very significant launch for Cambridge. The world faces a new age of anxiety, marked by the widespread distrust in business-as-usual politics. Cambridge must take a lead in bringing its unique breadth and depth of expertise to respond to social, political and economic conditions. We are enormously grateful for this generous gift from Peter Bennett. I am certain that the Bennett Institute for Public Policy will be transformational.”

* Cambridge launched its £2 billion Dear World… Yours, Cambridge philanthropic campaign for the University and Colleges in October 2015. To date more than £1.1 billion has been raised towards the total, including the gift from Peter Bennett.

* More about the Bennet Institute for Public Policy here

* University of Cambridge


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