Research Fundermentals: engaging with politicians and policymakers

Research and Innovation Development Office

Category: Research news

8 May 2015

One of our favourite bloggers over at Research Fundermentals recently gave sage advice regarding the relationship between academics and politicians.

Although it is a difficult balance to strike, engaging politicians and influencing policy without being overwhelmed or manipulated leads to high research impact.

It's useful to read Phil Ward's full article on the topic, but here are the main tips.

  • Beware of 'capture' by politicians and policy makers, who will try to influence your input and research.
  • You may be exposed to potentially hostile media interest. This is outside the experience of most academics, so get good media management support.
  • MPs generally rely on three sources for their information, which often consult academics:
    • The Commons Library Research Service (for MPs, open to all parties), which is comprised of 60 subject specialists. It provides:
      • 250 confidential briefings for MPs each month
      • 100+ 'standard notes' online each year
      • regular 'current awareness' emails to over 100 subscribers
      • personal briefings
      • library research papers
    • The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Established in 1989 to provide more depth on complex issues:
      • produces 20-30 'POSTnotes' per year, many of which come via the Research Councils. Generally compiled after having talked to around 15 experts
      • organises events, talks and outreach sessions. They are increasingly interested in input from the Social Science disciplines
    • The Select Committees:
      • one for each Government Department
      • tasked with examining the 'administration, expenditure and policy' of that Department
      • there are also cross-cutting subject-based committees.
  • There are multiple ways to provide advice effectively to politicians and policy makers:
    • submitting evidence: keep an eye on the programme of select committees, or the issues that are currently dominating the headlines. Put yourself (or your views) forward as evidence, either in written form, or offering yourself up to provide oral evidence. Your evidence will stand a better chance of being heard if it takes a different or unusual perspective on the subject area. You do not have to be a senior researcher to give evidence – in the recent review of the BBC, the views of a postgraduate student were included in the final report
    • specialist adviser: if you work in an area that is particularly pertinent to a specific enquiry, volunteer to be a 'specialist adviser', who will be more formally asked to comment
    • contact staff: alternatively, you can approach Committee Clerks informally to discuss the work of the committees, and see where you can best inform the process
    • work placement: finally, there may be potential to spend a week or more getting to understand how the process works through a work placement.

If you want to find out more, or who best to approach in Parliament, please contact the Research Fundermentals blogger, Phil Ward.


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