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.

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?