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We need research that is more equitable and effective

Director of Research Prof Alex Balch blogs on the PEC research priorities consultation report published today.

Published: 12th January 2021

The Modern Slavery PEC is a significant public investment through the UK’s Strategic Priorities Fund and represents a unique opportunity to transform our understanding of modern slavery, the effectiveness of policies to prevent it and protect those who experience it.

It is essential that we use these resources in the best way possible. This is why we held a wide-ranging consultation on the PEC research priorities, co-designed by a working group that included academics, policymakers and other actors from the sector. We are using the findings to develop our Research and Policy Impact Strategy.

Today, we are publishing the results of this consultation. It took place between July and November 2020 and involved extensive engagement through surveys, roundtables and discussions with stakeholders from the sector. The findings show significant evidence gaps across all main research areas and raise a number of challenges for future research.

We received more than 120 responses to the survey, and 75 people also joined us for a series of roundtable discussions on research priorities chaired by academics, policymakers and others to bring in a breadth of expertise and a range of perspectives. The feedback was very rich, pointing to a number of gaps and urgent priorities for future research.

The consultation revealed some frustrations within the field about the existing research base, particularly around a lack of evidence on the effectiveness of policies, and a lack of involvement from survivors. However, there was also considerable excitement and optimism about the potential for the Modern Slavery PEC to generate impact, do things differently and this way to help improve laws and policies to address modern slavery. This was, for example by acting as a broker to help connect research producers with research users, to be a platform for collaboration, to enable greater involvement in the research process, and helping to pioneer new approaches and research methods.

Survivors and survivor-advocates were encouraged to participate in the survey and roundtables. A separate consultation with survivors on research and research priorities was carried out by the Survivor Alliance, an international network of over 200 survivors of modern slavery, and is included in the report.

In each of our research areas, namely prevention, survivor support, supply chains and legal enforcement, as well as a fifth responsive area currently focused on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, the consultation helped us to identify a small number of key themes and topics that were identified as the most important priorities for research.

In addition, we were able to explore a number of cross-cutting themes and topics which were raised by those who took part in the consultation, but which didn’t directly fall under any of our main research areas. These included the need to understand effectiveness (‘what works’), the importance of data and data-sharing, building partnerships and bridging divisions between different stakeholders, the involvement of survivors in the research process, inclusivity and equality in funding, addressing root causes and structural inequalities, and the importance of including connected policy areas (for example immigration or drug policies).

All of these findings have helped the Modern Slavery PEC in its work to develop three main guiding principles for our research and policy impact strategy. The first one is effectiveness: the aim that research should address evidence gaps relevant to policy and improve understanding of what works; the second is equity: the aim that research should address structural inequalities and wider issues of social justice, and thirdly, survivor-involvement: the aim that research should involve people affected by modern slavery at all stages, from selection, through design and implementation.

The consultation has been an essential part of our process to develop and implement a research and policy impact strategy for the Modern Slavery PEC. Our goal now is to produce and support research that is more effective, equitable and survivor-involved, and focused on influencing decision-makers, one that will help us protect people from modern slavery through policies that are better informed by evidence.

Read the report: Consultation on the Modern Slavery PEC research priorities.