Policy Press

Publishing with a Purpose

Our story

When I started Policy Press 20 years ago we were four staff in the basement disseminating research for the School for Advanced Urban Studies, University of Bristol, with our own litho printing machine.

I definitely didn’t expect at that point in time to be publishing people that I considered icons such as feminist sociologist Ann Oakley or that our books would be highlighted by politicians such as Gordon Brown as being influential in developing their thinking nor that they would be winning prestigious awards.

In 1995 I presented a business plan for the establishment of a modest not-for-profit publishing house which would “publish research to inform policy”. The then Dean, Richard Hodder-Williams, due in part to his family background in publishing, understood the ambition and supported the idea.

Always having a clear vision of what we want to achieve is very important to me.  A significant guide in the early years was an ambitious 10 year vision document, with growth very much at the forefront. It had clear targets and also some aspirational aims that now make me smile like, ‘We will have published an equivalent book to Esping-Andersen’s 'Three worlds of welfare capitalism’. I’m not sure we did this quite within ten years but we have now.

From the start we had a clear sense of being part of positive social change, crossing the boundaries of research, policy and practice. We’ve extended from social policy across all the social science subject disciplines  and developed a truly international list of titles. We are a long way from publishing ‘just policy’ now but our core aim of publishing the highest quality new ideas still rings true.

Over the years we have expanded the formats to include textbooks, apps, digital platforms, short works and freemium content and our one journal has now become seven.  Recently we’ve had some really successful scholarly trade books which has been absolutely fantastic. It’s enabled us to reach a much wider audience than your traditional academic specialist work.

Looking back, scholarly publishing, and how content is bought and accessed, has been revolutionised in the 20 years we have been in business.  New technology has provided immense opportunities to widen engagement, impact and the spread of ideas.

One of the principles for me right from the start was that as we don’t write the books, the authors do, they absolutely have to be central to everything we do. This high level of author service remains fundamental to our ethos.

I know our authors enjoy the process of being supported through publication and that’s from very experienced professors who’ve worked with numerous publishers through to academics for whom this is their first publishing experience.

This is due in no uncertain terms to the diligent work of the team. Every member of staff supports what we are trying to do and this is crucial. Ultimately publishing is a people business, it’s all about people, and about communicating ideas.

We didn’t launch Policy Press with a big fanfare and buckets of investments from the University, we’ve grown in a planned and incremental way, and through our reputation for offering something different and being true to our values.

Given the current political climate, the decimation of the welfare state and the impact that will have on society’s most vulnerable I believe it’s more important than ever that we continue to do what we do in our uniquely Policy Press way.


by Alison Shaw, Chief Executive, Policy Press