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

 

 

What’s the difference between government and parliament?

In anticipation of my interview at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology  two years ago, I did some serious swotting up on who government and parliament actually are (I confess, I didn’t really understand the difference).  It’s the kind of information which really needs to be shared in visual format, hence I’ve made a video to explain it. It’s my first attempt at a video, so please be forgiving in your evaluations!

In this video I explain the difference between government and parliament, I explain who they are, what they do and how they do what they do.

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?

What can you learn in three months?

How often do you reflect on what you’ve learnt in a given period of time? My fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology ended last week. In the final days I reflected on what I’d learnt during the experience. One of the outcomes of this reflection is a work called ‘Educational Elements of a POST Fellowship’ which you should be able to see in the link below. In the form of a periodic table, and built around the symbols of the elements, this piece illustrates some of the different skills, facts, and pearls of wisdom I learnt during my time at POST.

Educational Elements of a POST Fellowship

In the actual periodic table, the actual elements are categorised according the kind of element they are: alkali metal, transition metal, noble gas etc. So, true to that form, I categorised the educational elements of my time at POST:

  • If you want to learn about parliament or politics, look at the purple boxes.
  • The blue boxes will give you some general and some niche facts.
  • Some of the things I learnt whilst researching my briefing on forensic language analysis are to be found in the orange boxes.
  • There are a couple of nuggets about London in green; however, unless you’re planning to visit Walthamstow or are likely to make the journey from Herne Hill to Victoria, I’d say you won’t get much out of these.
  • As for the pink boxes, these are skills that I acquired, so reading these you will either be envious, or, more likely, simply raise your eyebrows in shock that it is only now that I am developing some of these skills.
  • Finally, if I’m perfectly honest, the yellow boxes are basically in-jokes for my colleagues; however, if you’re after mild amusement or intrigue, then read these.

Now, as useful as they are to me, these 118 educational elements are of limited use to you.

However

Working at POST did enable me to bust three myths that I had previously thought to be truths. These relate to offices, writing, and the fate of people with PhDs. In my next three blog posts, I’m going to expand a bit on these myths: how I busted them, what the truth is, and what this means for you and me…

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