Overton Blog

Find out how our new platform will improve research-policy collaboration

We’re excited to announce that our latest project, the Areas of Research Interest (ARI) database has just gone live! This database lets researchers and civil servants search, browse or analyse research questions from government.

This project was a collaboration between Overton and the Government Office for Science, the ESRC and Transforming Evidence. It was led by Kathryn Oliver and Annette Boaz of Transforming Evidence, who spent four years working on and with the ARIs as academic fellows in government.

Find out more about ARIs, and why the database will help strengthen research-policy collaboration and improve government decision-making.

What are Areas of Research Interest?

The UK government publishes their 'Areas of Research Interest' (ARI) each year, outlining the research topics or questions that they want answered. Researchers can use these documents to better understand government priorities, and put themselves forward as experts on matters relating to their work.

Previously each government department typically published these online as separate PDF or Word documents, with no unified structure or interconnectivity. Researchers hoping to learn what government departments were interested in had to read through many separate documents in order to find areas that might be relevant to them. This set-up also led to wasted resources and duplication of effort within government, as departments may have had similar evidence or knowledge needs and were missing opportunities for internal collaboration.

What is the ARI database?

The ARI database brings all of these questions together in one place, making these areas of interest more accessible and easier to navigate. You can search by keywords, topic, government department, research field or country within the UK.

The database contains all published ARIs, tagged with the relevant metadata. It also links the ARI to related UKRI funded research projects, with an explanation of why this work might be applicable and useful in answering the question.

The hope is that the database will raise awareness of these policy questions, which will improve policy-makers’ access to external expertise and help the research community better understand government priorities. This can help to ensure that policies are grounded in sound evidence, and are more likely to be effective and efficient.

Government officials will update the database every time they have a new research question, which means that the research community has up to date information on the latest priorities. 

What did Overton do?

In simple terms, we pulled out all of the different areas of interest (the “questions”) from each of the documents, made them searchable & browseable and made them available through a simple, easy to use web application. 

Once the questions were all in one place we created a page for each question, introduced a taxonomy of topics and fields of research to help users browse them, and started showing users lists of similar questions from other departments.

Finally we used a large language model to match research questions to previously funded projects using data from the UKRI’s Gateway to Research. These matched projects don’t necessarily answer the question, but they do offer a quick way of seeing which institutions and academics may have relevant expertise in a specific area.

All of this makes it a one-stop shop for exploring government research interest, and knowledge sharing between departments. 

How will this help researchers?

The ARI database is a way for researchers and universities to identify government priorities. By understanding what areas the government is interested in, researchers can align their research with these priorities and increase the chances of their research being relevant and impactful. They can contribute to evidence-based policy making and help to shape decisions that are of national importance.

On an institutional level, it can help build research strategies. University leaders can focus their research efforts and funding on areas that are likely to be of interest to government departments and agencies, increasing the chances of successful collaborations.

How will this help policymakers?

The ARI database is a way for policymakers to share their knowledge and evidence needs with researchers. 

Pulling all of this data into one user-friendly platform allows users in government to identify experts more easily, increasing the likelihood that they use good quality evidence and improving their decision making. It gives users in government better visibility of the ARIs of other departments, allowing them to identify opportunities for joint working across departments on shared areas of interest, saving time and money on research and development. 

Having a unified view of the data in this way also allows decision makers to do better analysis into areas where there’s a knowledge gap in government or where more research is needed. By highlighting these areas, the government can encourage universities to focus their research efforts on areas that are important to policy makers, helping to inform decision making and shape policy.

By providing a clear and transparent outline of government research priorities, these documents can help to focus research efforts and encourage collaborations between universities and government departments. Explore it yourself here.

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What is Overton

We help universities, think tanks and publishers understand the reach and influence of their research.

The Overton platform is the world’s largest searchable policy database, with over 9 million documents from 30k organisations.

We track everything from white papers to think tank policy briefs to national clinical guidelines, and automatically find the references to scholarly research, academics and other outputs.