Ricky LawtonI am currently in the final year of my PhD at the Environment Department, University of York. My main research interests are ecosystem valuation, environmental policy, and science-policy impact.

Internship at the Cabinet Office

Starting in January 2014 I undertook a three-month internship at the Cabinet Office working in the Analysis and Insights Team. The division provides evidence and analysis for all policy areas in the Cabinet Office. I was working on Wellbeing valuation, in close partnership with the Behavioural Insights 'Nudge' Unit.

I was immediately given the opportunity to work on some really interesting policy applications of national scale survey datasets. The aim was to develop real-world applications for government data, providing the information that people need to make better decisions.

The first half of my internship involved regression analysis of the Annual Population Survey (APS). We analysed the association between reported subjective wellbeing and proximity to aircraft noise, captured in aircraft noise contour data sourced from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

We found that aviation noise exposure above World Health Organization recommended levels was connected to people reporting reduced wellbeing. Statistically, this had the impact of approximately half the decrease in life satisfaction as that reported by smokers. The Aircraft noise report is currently being approved by Defra before being sent to the Airports Commission. It is hoped that it will contribute to the debate on airport capacity.

The second large-scale project asked what is more important for wellbeing - salary or vocation. We produced a ‘careers calculator’ prototype to help young people think about career options in more than simply financial terms. This has been distributed to the Department for Education and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with a view to developing an app for use in national careers advice.

My work on careers and wellbeing was the centrepiece graphic for the Legatum Institute’s report authored by Lord O’Donnell on wellbeing, (available to download from the Legatum Institute website) which has had considerable attention in the media and policy circles.

We also secured online coverage on the BBC. This reported not only my research on the links between occupation and wellbeing, but also outlined my other research on aircraft noise, national events and grandparent’s wellbeing. This was great national-level media impact for my research.

I expected the internship to be heavily policy-based, attending meetings, writing up correspondence, drafting literature reviews and reports. I was pleasantly surprised that my role involved more original analysis. The wellbeing team had a number of research ideas for this data but a lack of resources, and I was given a great opportunity to perform this analysis and given excellent support by my line managers.

I was also given ongoing support and constructive feedback when writing for policy audiences, which will serve me well in the future. I attended many face-to-face meetings, and took minutes of Parliamentary Committees and interdepartmental meetings, and even managed a trip to Number 10 Downing Street.

I couldn't recommend the internship more highly. You gain access to large national datasets, with policy-relevant research questions producing significant findings with direct impact on Government. Working to policy timeframes also familiarizes you with the speed, accuracy and robustness required of official policy outputs. This experience will prove valuable to me in enhancing the wider impact of my research going forward.

I am still in contact with my direct line managers from the Cabinet Office. We intend to keep in touch to disseminate some of the analysis reports I completed during my time there. I have also made long-lasting personal contacts with other members of the team.