By Suzannah Brecknell

16 Nov 2023

As DBT launches a new prize for early-career researchers, head of analysis Ben Cropper explains the importance of broadening and fostering conversation with external experts so analysts are better prepared to answer the questions of the future

The Department for Business and Trade has launched a new prize which it hopes will, among other things, help to flip the usual interaction between government and researchers on its head.

“We have research budgets in every government department: we think about the questions we want to ask and then we'll tender out and get an answer,” explains DBT’s head of analysis and chief economist, Ben Cropper. “But this prize is asking: write me the paper that I didn't know I needed to commission.”

Open to students and people in the first five years of a career in academia, industry or think tanks, the prize asks for a written paper of no more than 10 pages, on any topic relevant to the work of DBT.

Cropper says he wants to find out “what's been the most interesting, meaningful, new, insightful piece of work that's been done, that's related to the remit of the department. So that's very broad, that could be anything on sort of business, trade growth, and productivity."

“We're hoping it both brings to our attention lots of work we otherwise wouldn't have seen,” he says, “but also gets people to think, ahead of time, ‘I might well go into that research area, so that I can have a chance of winning that prize’.”

After being judged by a multidisciplinary panel of experts from within and outwith DBT, the winner will receive a £10,000 cash prize. All shortlisted entrants will be invited to speak to analysts and policymakers in the department.

Cropper adds that he hopes the prize will also position DBT “as actually helping to foster the debate [around relevant topics], rather than just listening to it”.

He announced the prize at the first DBT Analysis and Evidence conference, hosted in central London this week. Speaking to CSW at the event, Cropper said the conference was in part intended to bring together analysis colleagues from the former Department of International Trade and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which merged earlier this year to create DBT, but also to build that conversation with outside experts.

Speakers included academics and economists from think tanks and industry. In the audience, analysts from DBT were joined by colleagues from other departments as well as sixth formers from several London schools, who were able to get an insight into what a career in government might look like.

"We wanted to span the whole remit of the new department – from domestic business support to striking trade deals with India – and use that as a way to bring its whole analytical community together"

The agenda covered topics from ne- zero and labour-market questions to building local economic resilience and the historical context for UK growth.

“We wanted to really span the whole remit of the new department – so everything from domestic business support all the way through to striking trade deals with India – and use that as a way to bring the whole analytical community of the new department together,” Cropper explained, adding that it was also important to bring in external and cross-governemtn colleagues.

“We're extremely keen to build really good links with the experts in academia, and business and anywhere else, really, because we've been given this this objective of growth – to get the economy growing again – and there's obviously no way we can do that from within our four walls.”

The department’s new Analysis prize is part of trying to extend the conversation beyond its four walls, and also help Cropper and his team prepare to meet the needs of ministers in a changing and challenging economic context. He describes part of his job as head of analysis in the department as “taking your head out of the day-to-day to not just think about the question that got asked of us this week is but ask: ‘What is the question that we think will be asked of us in two, three years' time? Or six months' time? What's the underlying analysis that we need to have?’

“We need to be ready to answer that question, because there's nothing worse for anybody that when we are asked a question and say ‘we'll give you our best guess on the analysis’. That’s not very good for the analyst; it's not very good for policy.”

Find out more about the DBT Analysis Prize here


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