UK philosophers make many contributions to British life. Alongside the influence of our teaching on thousands of students, much of our research plays an important role in the political, legal, regulatory, healthcare, environmental, and commercial life of Britain and other countries. Philosophers can offer conceptual analysis, expert commentary, critical insights and new ways of thinking about a range of important topics.
The practical contributions of philosophers include planning for future generations, anti-bullying campaigns, psychiatric care, training of midwives, artificial intelligence and data ethics, the law concerning assisted reproduction, climate injustice, patient confidentiality, and understanding risk and uncertainty in insurance policies.
Our impact work involves many local, national, and international partners, including UK government departments, major charities and businesses, and international organisations. The practical, social, and economic benefits of philosophical research are felt around the world.
Here we describe some of the recent kinds of impact UK philosophers have had, under the headings policy, practice, public engagement, and business.
- Significant contribution to the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings
Led by a moral philosopher at the University of Central Lancashire, the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings was developed by a global, interdisciplinary team, which involved vulnerable populations from Kenya and South Africa throughout the research process. The code was adopted by the EU in 2018 and has been used in 44 countries. It seeks to end ‘ethics dumping’ in low- or middle-income countries.
- Shaped international regulation and policy around mental capacity to enhance autonomy
Philosophers at the University of Essex have changed attitudes and policy around mental capacity, helping to protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in society. Their work informed the implementation of the UK’s Mental Capacity Act and contributed to international efforts to achieve compliance with the UN’s CRPD.
- Establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations
As a direct result of research by philosophers working with other researchers at Cambridge an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations has been established. The group is actively informing UK policy, has produced draft legislation on the wellbeing of future generations, and has been mentioned in parliamentary debates.
- Led to changes in regulation in Australia and Germany to give more information to donor conceived children.
As a result of research led by a Liverpool philosopher, amendments were made to the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act in Victoria 2014 and 2016 to give donor conceived children identifying information about the donors. Similarly, South Australia introduced a donor register in 2019, and Western Australia has recommended a similar register, with identifying information about the donor. Likewise, the German 2018 ‘Sperm Donor Register Act’ also enables donor offspring to access this kind of information.
- Creation of new government body advising on AI policy and regulation
Philosophers working at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence provided research which led to the creation of a new UK government body, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CEDI). CEDI is the first national advisory board for AI with significant influence on the regulation of AI.
- Informed the guiding principles of REGG, Public Health England’s first research ethics committee
Research conducted by a philosopher at the University of York underpinned the guiding principles and operating procedures of Public Health England’s (PHE) first research ethics committee. The research ensured that there was ethical scrutiny for PHE information gathering activities not usually counted as research, including collecting surveillance data and monitoring population health; population screening programmes; service evaluations and quality improvement activities; information gathering in response to public health outbreaks and emergencies; and market research studies. It was also the basis for the development of an innovative proportionate process which enabled the committee to manage this extended remit.
- Developed a climate injustice mapping tool, used by the UK government, the Town and Country Planning Association and Friends of the Earth, amongst others.
A philosopher at the University of Manchester with colleagues in Geography and Urban Planning developed a mapping tool that allowed national and international policy makers to understand how climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable groups. The tool, and the underlying concept of climate injustice has informed planning decisions, adaptation strategies and practitioner guidance. Users include the UK government, the Town and Country Planning Association, Friends of the Earth, and public bodies in Liverpool, Hull, Glasgow, Staffordshire and Helsinki.
- Helped Alberta Health Services (the largest provincial health authority in Canada) to develop an inclusive breastfeeding policy.
Alberta Health Services consulted a philosopher from the University of Southampton on the development of an inclusive breastfeeding policy. Her research and recommendations influenced the policy by: (1) consolidating their choice of language, moving away from discussing the “benefits” of breastfeeding and the “risks” of using formula to more balanced language; (2) influencing their decision to avoid positioning breastfeeding as a default option; (3) causing them to explicitly acknowledge, within the policy itself, how difficult it is to support informed feeding decisions in a wider context in which mothers are strongly disposed to feel judged for their choices.
- Shaped policy on health resource allocation around the world leading to more equitable access to key health interventions
Arguments from a philosopher from LSE shaped a landmark report by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Consultative Group on Equity and Universal Health Coverage. The report’s principles shaped WHO guidance to member states, were adopted by public actors to guide health resource allocation in many countries, used by international actors and professional organisations to evaluate interventions. They are also the guiding principles of a five-year, £5m training and priority-setting programme in Ethiopia and Zanzibar.
- Shaped NHS policy on patient data, protecting confidentiality and maintaining public trust
A philosopher at UCL fundamentally rethought the normative underpinnings of medical confidentiality, arguing that much of the role that had previously been assigned within guidance to implied consent should be assigned to reasonable expectations. His research-based ethical advice led to changes in the way that core concepts such as confidentiality, implied consent, and public interest are interpreted by healthcare professionals, national-level committees, and the National Data Guardian. It contributed materially to the prevention of the implementation of the care.data project, thereby helping to protect the privacy of all English GP patients (2014), an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) finding that Google DeepMind and Royal Free had breached the Data Protection Act (2017), the withdrawal of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Home Office and NHS Digital, preventing the misuse of patient data for immigration control purposes (2018), and the adoption across the NHS of a new principle for the use of data (2020).
- Contributed to the development and implementation of ‘community wealth building’ policies by local authorities on two continents, reducing poverty.
A philosopher at the University of York’s research on equality and democracy at the local level had a crucial influence on the development and implementation of ‘community wealth building’ policies by local authorities, including Islington, Liverpool, Newham, North Ayrshire, Preston, and Wirral in the UK, and the city of Richmond, Virginia, in the US. For example, his research played “a critical and indispensable role” in the creation of the Maggie L. Walker Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB) as a permanent citywide agency of Richmond City Council starting in 2014 (the first municipal agency of its kind in the U.S.) The poverty rate in Richmond decreased from 25% in 2014 to 19% in 2019: this success is attributed in large part to the work of OCWB and the principles of community wealth building that it has shared throughout the city of Richmond.
- Changed German guidelines and practice to reduce the use of coercive practices in psychiatric care
With the help of arguments of a philosopher at Liverpool University, German guidelines have been changed to reduce coercive psychiatric practices to the justifiable level. A report co-authored by this philosopher was a main driving force for new guidelines on psychiatric case by the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
- Changed the guidelines of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) to encourage openness and disclosure around donor conception
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has changed its guidelines and practices, from advocating secrecy around donor conception and anonymity of donors, to “strongly encouraging” openness, as a result of arguments put forward by a philosopher at Liverpool, that there is a human right to know one’s donor.
- Shaped practices of Anti-bullying NGOs to include lookism
A philosopher at Birmingham worked with anti-bullying charities to respond to appearance bulling, the most prevalent form of bullying. The annual bullying report now uses the term lookism, and the anti-bullying alliance is using the everydaylookism stories to develop training materials for teachers.
- Directly informed a new definition of wellbeing adopted internationally
A philosopher at Cambridge has informed how international institutions, including NATO, professional bodies and charities, define and use well-being as an outcome to measure good policy. This has led to a more contextual and complex definition, so benefiting numerous groups served by such bodies across the US and UK.
- Informed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Ethics Guidance and a Training Manual for clinical research during epidemics of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Ethics Guidance and a Training Manual for clinical research during epidemics of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, were informed by the work of a philosopher at University College, London. The ethics guidance applied to 4955 studies undertaken into WHO’s priority infectious diseases and pathogens with over 88 million participants globally. The philosopher also initiated the development of an Afrocentric ethics framework for clinical research during epidemics across Africa and supervised a project for the African Union Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC), involving wide consultation, engagement, and training.
- Shaped the Dutch legal, medical, activist and policy framework surrounding maternity care to protect the choices of women birthing ‘outside the guidelines’.
Some women make birth choices that healthcare professionals consider dangerous. Research from a philosopher at Southampton defends women’s rights to make such choices. It has been used to change Dutch legal precedent, protecting healthcare professionals assisting such women from prosecution. It has shaped clinical guidelines issued jointly by the Dutch Royal College of Midwives (KNOV) and the Dutch College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (NVOG) and influenced key strategic and policy decisions by two Dutch charities: Geboortebeweging (Women’s Advocacy) and Clara Wichmann (Litigation). KNOV and NVOG have also invited the philosopher to deliver training for health professionals on their moral obligation to provide such care.
- Influenced the UK government and the Association of British Insurers to introduce Flood-Re, a flood reassurance scheme that ensures affordable home insurance for high flood-risk residential property.
A 2012 report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation from philosophers at the University of Manchester and the University of York argued that flood insurance should be based on principles of social justice rather than purely on levels of risk. The report had a significant influence on the introduction of the reassurance scheme Flood-Re. As of March 2020, over 300,000 properties have benefited from it and 80% of households with prior flood claims have seen a price reduction of more than 50% in their home insurance premiums.
- Worked with the Royal College of Midwives to develop training on Communication in Labour, improving experiences of those giving birth
The Royal College of midwives commissioned a philosopher based at the University of Sussex to design and develop an online training module for them, founded upon philosophical concepts and responsive to the distinctive working patterns of midwives. This module providing midwives with reflective tools to enable midwives to communicate more effectively, improving the experiences of those in labour.
- Contributing to national and international accredited professional development resources and training resources on non-judgmental support for infant feeding
A philosopher at the University of Southampton contributed to training resources on non-judgmental support for infant feeding. She produced a presentation for an international accredited online professional development module for lactation professionals for Gold Lactation. Her presentation was chosen to be translated into Mandarin as part of a package of training materials selected to be made available to lactation consultants in China. Her research was used to revise the Breastfeeding Network’s training activity for Neonatal Unit helpers, “Exploring Attitudes to Infant Feeding” to include discussion of the perceived need to justify infant feeding decisions. The research also formed the basis of two activities in an online 20 hour Breastfeeding Course produced by Alberta Health Services, aimed at all health care professionals in Alberta who work with breastfeeding families.
- Improved evidence assessment at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
‘Evaluating Evidence in Medicine’ (EBM+) was an AHRC-funded project based at University of Kent and University College London. Drawing on recent philosophical research on causality, the project team developed a methodology that enables evidence assessors to take account of evidence of mechanisms alongside other kinds of study. Project members then took part in formal consultations with IARC and NICE on their methodologies for evidence assessment, and submitted written material to them recommending inclusion of evidence of mechanisms. This led to both organisations changing their methods to reflect the project findings. For example, IARC assesses carcinogenicity on behalf of WHO (representing 193 countries). Before this work, mechanistic evidence played a subsidiary role. Since the intervention of philosophers, “mechanistic evidence is now treated on a par with epidemiological studies on humans and with animal studies” (Kate Guyton, Head IARC Monographs).
Public Engagement/Understanding impact
- Shaped Discussion Of The Landmark Bravis Court Case in the Netherlands
Bravis (the name of the hospital) is a landmark court case concerning a pregnant woman with a previous caesarean section. She demanded a court order, forcing the hospital to provide treatment against medical guidelines. A philosopher from the University of Southampton contributed to public discussion of the case, which received widespread media attention. The philosopher wrote research-based articles for two quality national newspapers: Trouw (circulation: 102,631) and NRC (circulation: 136,000) – comparable to The Independent and The Times. The op-ed in Trouw was the focus of the Newspaper’s in-house editorial. They also directly advised one of the co-litigants in the case, the charity Geboortebeweging (Women’s Advocacy), on its press contributions.
- Influenced public discussion of childbirth experience in the U.K.
A philosopher at the University of Sussex, launched a website (www.birthsite.org) to encourage women to share their experiences of childbirth. The philosopher’s work was covered by national and local press. They also organised a Brighton Fringe Festival event in 2017 called ‘Sussex Birth Day: Talking about Birth Matters’, which brought midwives, parents and birth activists together for sustained discussion.
- Helped combat negative feelings about infant feeding decisions that can have serious effects on the wellbeing of vulnerable new mothers and their infants,
Negative feelings about infant feeding decisions can have serious effects on the wellbeing of vulnerable mothers and their infants. A philosopher from Southampton led a team of researchers from the University of Southampton, the University of Cardiff and representatives from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and Breastfeeding Network (BFN) to produce online materials exploring feelings surrounding infant feeding and encouraging supportive conversations. She also ran events aimed either at mothers, or at the public with a focus on mothers , and wrote articles and blogs aimed at a general audience for The Independent, Psyche, and the Journal of Medical Ethics. She was interviewed about her work for the BBC Radio 3 Arts and Ideas Series, 3CR 855AM Radio in Melbourne, on TalkSolent (television) and the Imperfect Cognition blog. Her work was discussed in the Huffington Post and the UNICEF blog. Feedback showed that engaging with the research helped mothers feel better about their feeding experiences and to be more sensitive and less judgmental towards others.
- Influenced political parties and broader political debate concerning community wealth building and inequality
Research on community wealth building by a philosopher from University of York, working with a non-academic co-author, has influenced policy and practice of the UK Labour Party, the Australian Labour Party and the Irish Green Party. The Guardian and The Economist have discussed this research as a leading exemplar of new progressive approaches to political economy and public policy, with extensive coverage also in US publications such as Jacobin and NPlusOne. More recently, the philosopher and his co-author have further developed ideas on policy remedies for economic inequality in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic; their op-ed in The Guardian that has been shared over 5,100 times on social media.
- Helping the insurance industry and financial sector to make decisions under severe uncertainty
Philosophers from the London School of Economics developed a technique for assessing alternative courses of action that accounts for uncertainty and allows decision-makers to calibrate their decisions to their confidence in different models. The method has reformed the way in which uncertain decisions are addressed both in the insurance industry and the financial sector. The insurer AXA XLC takes it into account when dealing with the problem of pricing of insurance contracts against natural hazards; it has shaped the structure, business model, and operations of two new risk management companies working in the insurance industry and the financial services sector; and it has informed independent advice on financial stability provided to the Bank of England.