Advice for researchers on engaging with policymakers

Along with two awesome women, Zoe Bulaitis and Kate Massey-Chase, I am co-running a workshop this week on ‘Policy-making and the Humanities’. We’ll be writing and podcasting about it properly in due course, so check back here for more in the coming weeks. For now, and for our participants, here are some of the resources we’re using in the workshop.

Advice on engaging with policymakers can be found here:
How the arts and humanities can influence public policy – Huffington Post blog piece
What is the value of history in policymaking? – Institute for Government
Let’s close the gap between academics and policy makers: Peter Shergold on changing the system – The Conversation
How should academics interact with policy makers? Lessons on building a long-term advocacy strategy – LSE Impact Blog
The ten commandments for influencing policymakers – Times higher Education
How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation – the Guardian
Policy makers: guide to working with policy makers – National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement
Getting research into policy: the role of think tanks and other mediators – LSE Impact Blog
How academics and NGOs can work together to influence policy: insights from the InterAction report – LSE Impact Blog
Tips for engaging with government – Jo Clift Consulting
Maximise your impact – University of Bristol Policy Press Blog
Overcoming the five barriers to influence – American Management Association
Evidence for Health II: Overcoming barriers to using evidence in policy and practice – Health Research Policy and Systems

 

When writing a policy brief, here are some Government and Parliamentary avenues to explore to establish the relevance and timeliness of your topic:

Government:
Publications
Policies
Consultations

Parliament:
Hansard – a record of Parliamentary activity including: MPs and Peers’ written and spoken contributions; debates; petitions; and divisions.
Parliamentary research briefings including: Commons briefing papers; Commons debate packs; Lords in Focus; Lords library notes; POST notes; and POST briefs.
Commons Select Committee inquiries
Lords Select Committee inquiries
Joint Select Committee inquiries

European:
Topics of the EU
EU legislation

 

 

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An A-Z of reasons to do a POST fellowship

Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.

Assertiveness
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.

Balance
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.

Collaboration
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.

Drive
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.

Expertise
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Friends
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.

Giving
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.

Helping
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.

Inspiration
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.

Job prospects
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.

Knowledge
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.

Learning
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.

Momentum
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.

Network
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.

Opportunities
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.

Purpose
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.

Questioning
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.

Reflection
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.

Space
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.

Tales
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.

Understanding
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.

Vision
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.

Writing
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.

eXpectation
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.

Yolo
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.

Zeal
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.

AZ

pdf here.

Nine ways research gets into Parliament

* /nine ways you could get your research into Parliament

Six months ago I wrote a post about how research gets into Parliament.

Last week I had a Twitter conversation with Matthew Purvis, head of research services in the House of Lords Library. Matthew told me that there are a couple of other ways that research gets into Parliament, which I didn’t know about when I wrote my original post.  So below is an update. Updates are in italics in the text, but here’s a summary of what’s new:

Research also gets into Parliament:

  • in Lords Briefing Packs (no. 6)
  • through Lords Library responses to Peers’ questions (no. 8)
  • through the House of Lords Library Current Affairs Digest (no. 9)

Nine ways research gets into Parliament (pdf here)

Nine ways - research

***

1) Through the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

  • POST provides independent, balanced analyses of topics in science and technology for both MPs and Peers
  • The office publishes short briefings on relevant topics and also hosts events
  • Input comes from a wide variety or sources including both academics and their research

2) Through Commons and Lords Select Committee Inquiries

  • Committees set an agenda for inquiries they want to carry out
  • They also ask for ideas for inquiries on Twitter or their webpages
  • They get written and oral evidence from various sources including academics
  • The outcome of an inquiry is a report, which Government is obliged to respond to

3) Through All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

  • APPGs are composed of MPs and Peers who have an interest in a particular area, e.g. ‘the aluminium industry’, ‘arts, health and wellbeing’ and ‘biodiversity’ (they are a bit like university societies)
  • They hold meetings on different topics with invited speakers who are sometimes academic researchers

4) Through Political Researchers

  • Some MPs employ researchers to work in their offices, carry out research and gather information for them
  • An MP’s position in Government, for example ‘shadow secretary of state for health’, will impact on the sorts of information the researcher is tasked with gathering

5) Through Direct Correspondence and Engagement with MPs and Peers

  • MPs and Peers have specific areas of interest on account of: the nature of their constituency; their political affiliation; or their general interests
  • One of the ways they find out more about these areas of interest is through engaging with academics in relevant disciplines

6) Through Commons Debate Packs and Lords Briefing Packs

  • When a debate is planned for a particular topic, for example ‘shale gas’, library specialists quickly compile briefing packs for MPs and Peers ahead of the debate
  • Packs may include news items, press releases and parliamentary material
  • They may also include information from research centres
  • (Lords Briefing Packs are not available externally)

7) Through Commons Research Briefings and Lords Library Notes

  • The House of Commons and House of Lords each have a library
  • The Commons library has a number of subject specialists who research and write briefings on relevant topics
  • The Lords library also produces briefings
  • Some of the input comes from academics and their research

8) Through Commons and Lords Library Responses to MPs’ and Peers’ Questions

  • The House of Commons and House of Lords libraries provide a confidential service for MPs, Peers and their staff wherein they can submit requests to the libraries for answers to questions they have
  • Academic research, as well as other sources of information, may contribute to the response

9) Through the House of Lords Library Current Affairs Digest

  • The House of Lords Library publishes a weekly current affairs digest
  • The digest summarises articles from a variety of sources including journals, magazines, the press, think tank reports, blog posts and speeches
  • Summaries are grouped into six areas: social policy, science, economic affairs, home affairs, international affairs and the constitution 

Eight ways research gets into Parliament*

* /eight ways you could get your research into Parliament

PLEASE NOTE, AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS POST CAN BE FOUND HERE

 

Good morning Friends,

I’m really pleased that so many of you found last week’s blog post on getting research into policy environments helpful.

Your response got me thinking, and I reckon I’ve some further insights in the same area, which I also gleaned during my time at POST.

So, without further ado, let me share what I learnt about how research gets into Parliament.

Oh, but first, one more thing: I hope you will be empowered with this knowledge. The names of relevant people, email addresses, Twitter accounts and pertinent information are all readily available online if you want to (re)act…

Eight ways research gets into Parliament (pdf here)

Research

1) Through the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

  • POST provides independent, balanced analyses of topics in science and technology for both MPs and Peers
  • The office publishes short briefings on relevant topics and also hosts events
  • Input comes from a wide variety or sources including both academics and their research

2) Through Commons and Lords Select Committee Inquiries

  • Committees set an agenda for inquiries they want to carry out
  • They also ask for ideas for inquiries on Twitter or their webpages
  • They get written and oral evidence from various sources including academics
  • The outcome of an inquiry is a report, which Government is obliged to respond to

3) Through All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

  • APPGs are composed of MPs and Peers who have an interest in a particular area, e.g. ‘the aluminium industry’, ‘arts, health and wellbeing’ and ‘biodiversity’ (they are a bit like university societies)
  • They hold meetings on different topics with invited speakers who are sometimes academic researchers

4) Through Political Researchers

  • Some MPs employ researchers to work in their offices, carry out research and gather information for them
  • An MP’s position in Government, for example ‘shadow secretary of state for health’, will impact on the sorts of information the researcher is tasked with gathering

5) Through Direct Correspondence and Engagement with MPs and Peers

  • MPs and Peers have specific areas of interest be on account of: the nature of their constituency; their political affiliation; or their general interests
  • One of the ways they find out more about these areas of interest is through engaging with academics in relevant disciplines

6) Through Commons Debate Packs

  • When a debate is planned for a particular topic, for example ‘shale gas’, library specialists quickly compile briefing packs for MPs ahead of the debate
  • Packs may include news items, press releases and parliamentary material
  • They may also include information from research centres

7) Through Commons Research Briefings and Lords Library Notes

  • The House of Commons and House of Lords each have a library
  • The Commons library has a number of subject specialists who research and write briefings on relevant topics
  • The Lords library also produces briefings
  • Some of the input comes from academics and their research

8) Through Commons Library Responses to MPs Questions

  • The House of Commons library provides a confidential service for MPs and their staff wherein they can submit requests to the library for answers to questions they have
  • Academic research, as well as other sources of information, may contribute to the response

Parliament’s best kept secret

I love tips, life hacks and shortcuts, and today I’ve got a corker to share with you:

ctrl + POST.

Except you can drop the ‘ctrl’.

Today I’m going to tell you about POST: Parliament’s best kept secret and one of the best shortcuts I’ve ever come across. So, if you can identify with any of the people below, then read on.

POST

POST is where I worked this summer and where this blog began.

‘POST’ stands for the ‘Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology’ and is an office that produces briefings for MPs and Peers on topics in science and technology. But not just any old briefings…

POST takes huge topics like Trends in Crime and Criminal Justice or The 100,000 Genomes Project and analyses, synthesises, digests and distills them. The key areas, main issues and policy implications are condensed into four sides of printed text. (POST is the office incarnation of what you get if you cross a ruminant with a blast furnace.)

This is the best bit, though: POST’s briefings are publicly available! Do I need to say anymore?! Here’s the link that will take you to an index of four-page synopses of loads of topics in science and technology of importance today.

Not convinced that you’ll get much insight in just four pages?

Well, let me tell you, a hell of a lot goes into the briefings that POST produces. In fact, having researched one myself this summer, which has been published today, I can tell you precisely what goes into them, or at least what went into mine…

What went into Sarah’s POSTnote:

  • 111 academic articles
  • 83  government and legal documents
  • 53 other documents
  • Contributions from more than 50 academics, industry specialists, civil servants and others
  • Correspondence from more than 400 emails
  • Information from enough telephone calls to cure a phobia of telephoning people

I’ve done some calculations and I reckon that, had I printed out all the documents I could have, it would have taken 2364 sheets of paper (ball park figure, obvs). According to Conservatree, that’s the equivalent of 1/3 of a tree or 4 metres of tree.

The ruminant blast furnace is always in action, and a new POSTnote comes out every couple of weeks. Whilst you, dear readers, are going about your day-to-day lives, POST staff and fellows are investigating, delving, probing, digesting and distilling the world of science and technology.

If POST were a cleaning product it would be Flash. Remember the tagline? That’s right:  does the hard work, so you don’t have to!

And that, dear friends, is why POST is Parliament’s best kept secret.

Oh, and here’s a big P.S. if ever there was one: here‘s the link to my POSTnote on Forensic Language Analysis, which is as exciting as it sounds! No need to tune into CSI: Crime Scene Investigation this week, you can learn about the real deal in POSTnote 509.

Seven ideas for getting your research heard in policy environments

Academic researchers, listen in:

Here are seven things you can do that will increase the likelihood of getting your research heard in policy environments. I worked them out during my fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology this summer.

For you visual folk l’ve distilled everything into an infographic (pdf here). If you want weblinks, you can get them below.

Policy

Get active

  1. Get on Twitter, follow the Commons and Lords Select Committees, look out for their calls for input, respond.
  2. Bookmark the webpage for open calls for evidence for Parliamentary Committee inquiries, check it regularly, contribute.
  3. Find out which government bodies are relevant to your research, find the contact details of someone in each of those bodies, ask if theirs (like some bodies) get input from working groups composed of academics and practitioners, ask what you have to do to get onto the working group, do it. Also tell them about you and your work.

And to facilitate getting noticed and heard

Get into shape

  1. Build your profile and increase your online presence (Twitter/ LinkedIn/ Academia.edu/ a blog)
  2. Look for opportunities to practise communicating your research in different ways and to non-academic audiences, take these opportunities e.g. in university: Three Minute Thesis; outside of university: public festivals; online: The Conversation.
  3. Build your network. Get relevant organisations, blogs and Twitter members on your radar. Keep up to date with what’s going on in your network. Look for opportunities to engage, therein strengthening the links in your network  and no doubt expanding it.

And finally

Get a grip

  1. Believe in yourself, your research and its worth. If you don’t then why would anyone else?

I’m a junior academic…get me out of here!

Slide1

Dear fellow PhD students and early career researchers,

I have had a glimpse of the other side. By which I mean I have seen what lies beyond the perimeter fence of the Ivory Tower Complex. And my, does it look exciting!

During my time at POST I liaised with lots of people who had PhDs however had pursued careers outside of academia. So, in this blog post I’m going to tell you about six jobs I’ve discovered you can go into with a PhD: three in the private and public sector and three specifically in Parliament. I’m also going to make suggestions as to how to explore further.

  1. Academic-practitioner

Who’s it for?

Okay, I confess, this job would see you based in the Ivory Tower. However, if variety is your thing, and you’re keen to engage with the wider world whilst keeping a foot in the academic world, this could well be a path for you.

What might it entail?

At POST I liaised with forensic linguists and phoneticians who were based in universities, but who were also practising experts. This meant that, as well as the teaching and research, they also did forensic casework. This entailed compiling forensic reports for the Crown Prosecution Service, police forces and solicitors. They also appeared in court as expert witnesses.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Think about how and where your expertise could contribute in the wider world.
  • What skills have you been developing that you could apply elsewhere?
  • Are there any academic-practitioners in your department or field? What do they do? If there aren’t, does that mean you’ve discovered a niche?!
  1. Practitioner/ consultant/ industry specialist

Who’s it for?

If you don’t want to stay in academia, but do want to stay in your field, this could be the path for you.

What might it entail?

During my fellowship I came across practitioners (in this case forensic consultants) who were using the expertise they’d acquired during their studies on a daily basis. As a specialist, it’s obviously important to keep up to date with developments in your chosen field. The consultants I met were members of professional bodies and also attended relevant conferences; however, they didn’t have the research and teaching pressures that come with academia.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Look into the professional bodies that exist in your specialist area.
  • Struggling with the bullet point above? Try looking at your research with a wide-angled lens (e.g. what school subject would you class it under?) Now think again about professional bodies or learned societies in your general area. Google them and dig around their websites.
  • Next time you’re led by PhD-boredom to Google academic conferences, focus on those attended not just by academics, but also practitioners (look at previous programmes). Can you attend? If not, use the info there to investigate companies and organisations in your area.
  1. ‘Public body’ specialist

Who’s it for?

It might be that you want to make use of your specialist knowledge or skills, but don’t want to work in the private sector. If this is the case, then maybe the public sector is for you.

What might it entail?

When researching my POSTnote, I talked with specialists in the Metropolitan Police Service and the College of Policing. Some of these individuals were doing jobs closely linked to their area of expertise (like industry specialists). Others had roles in which their research and communication skills were significant and their academic background less so.

Interested? Suggestion:

  • If neither the MPS nor the College of Policing are for you, have a gander at this webpage which lists all the government-affiliated agencies and public bodies, for example UK Sport, the Environment Agency, and the Met Office. By my calculations, there are 361 to look through!

Now to Parliament

Perhaps you’ve been entertaining the idea of pursuing a career in government or parliament, but don’t concretely know what that might look like. Well, now I’m going to tell you about three different jobs I came across. But before I do that, here’s a free cheat:

  • If you’re anything like I was about a year ago, you’ll know the words ‘government’, ‘parliament’, ‘cabinet’, ‘department’, ‘civil service’ and  ‘committee’ but don’t really know how they all fit together. If that’s you then look at Newton’s Apple An Introduction to Science Policy. For scientists and non-scientists, it gives a comprehensible and concise explanation of the structure of government and parliament. So useful!
  1. Committee specialist

Who’s it for?

Judging by the age of the committee specialists I met, this is a job you can do from relatively early on in your career! It entails supporting a Commons’ or Lords’ select committee. If you don’t want to pursue a career in your field, but like research and report writing, this could be your dream job!

What might it entail?

If you don’t know, select committees have the remit of scrutinising government departments so, for example, the Defence Committee scrutinises the Ministry of Defence. Committees, which are formed of backbenchers, carry out inquiries relevant to their area. Committee specialists support the committee in gathering and collating written and oral evidence and assisting in writing the reports. Crucially, committee specialists are not necessarily specialists in the areas covered by the committee. For example, I met one specialist who had worked for three completely different committees. What you’ll require, then, are brilliant report writing skills and an ability to get to grips with new areas and disciplines fairly quickly.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Have a browse around the different select committees that exist.
  • Have a look at some of the reports produced by committees; they’ll give you an idea of the kinds of research you’d be doing, people you’d be interacting with and reports you’d be pulling together.
  1. Library specialist

Who’s it for?

This is a job for those of you who are good at keeping secrets! Also for people who might want to stay in their general area of interest, and who enjoy doing shorter pieces of research with quick deadlines.

What might it entail?

Library specialists might have expertise in their area; however, this is not always the case. They work in one general area, for example ‘environment’, and compile briefings for MPs and Peers on relevant topics. If a debate is planned to take place in parliament, a specialist might also compile a debate pack including relevant policy documents, recent press articles etc. to help brief the MPs and Peers. As for the secret keeping, well, that’s because library specialists provide an ‘answers service’ for MPs’ and Peers’ questions. And that answering service is confidential! Why confidential, you may ask? Well, because they might not want others to know their game plan, nor the gaps in their knowledge!

Interested? Suggestions:

  • Read more about the commons library and its research service here.
  • Have a think about what it is you enjoy about research. Is it: a) increasing your own knowledge in a niche area; b) setting your own research agenda; c) carrying out a long piece of research; d) researching new areas; or e) finding an answer to a question, then moving on? This might help you establish if this is the job for you.
  • Maybe you didn’t know how to answer above? Why not try this challenge: find a topic of policy relevance in the headlines and, in the space of a couple of hours, see how much information you can pull together on that topic. How did you find the challenge?
  • Or what about this challenge: get a friend to ask you a question – any question. Then, go away and have a go at answering it. Do NOT rely on Wikipedia alone! How did you get on?

And finally,

  1. Parliamentary scientific adviser

Who’s it for?

Do you like finding out about new subjects within your broad area (say, for example, ‘energy’ or ‘ICT’)? What about talking to people from different backgrounds: industry, government, academia, for example? If you answered yes to both, then maybe this is for you.

What might it entail?

As you know by now, I did my fellowship in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. As well as the fellows, the office has permanent staff – scientific advisers, who cover different areas: health, biological sciences, physical sciences, ICT, energy, environment and the social sciences. Advisers produce briefings on topics in these areas and supervise fellows as they research their briefings. They liaise with parliamentarians, organisations and industry, and put on events for MPs and peers, raising awareness around topics of policy relevance.

Interested? Suggestions:

  • See if you are eligible to do a POST fellowship: if you’re Research Council-funded, you’ve got until the 28th August to apply here.
  • Have a look at the POST website and the POST briefings.
  • The remit of a POST briefing is that it is for an intelligent, non-specialist audience. When was the last time you wrote for a non-specialist audience? Challenge yourself to try writing a couple of hundred words about something from your area of research that would make sense to a non-specialist. How did you get on?

Et voilà! You have options!

In my next blog post, I’m going to talk about some of the secret skills of a PhD student. I know some of you are concerned that apart from your studies, you’ve not got much on your CVs. So I’m going to cheer you up by flagging up some of the awesome desirable skills you might not have realised you’ve got!