If you want to influence policy, you need to know how to make your voice heard, here are ten ways researchers can be involved in policy making and shaping.
1. Respond to a Consultation
When parliament is developing new pieces of legislation or investigating an important topic, they will launch a Consultation. These are surveys which anyone can respond to. Fill out a response making in clear that you are an expert in your field, that your contribution is evidence informed and that you would be happy to contribute further evidence if useful.
NB: Consultations run on Parliamentary schedules, you need to stay up to date and respond when the opportunity arises not when you choose to. Follow Committees on Twitter eg Education Committee, sign up for their mailing lists or subscribe to the Knowledge Exchange Unit’s mailing list to keep up to date.
2. Arrange a Site Visit
Elected members like to be seen out and about in the community, so why not invite them to meet with you. This works best when there is something to see or do – tour a new facility, meet a community group or celebrate an anniversary. You will get an uninterrupted opportunity to speak to them and they get to demonstrate their active involvement. To increase the likelihood of your invite being accepted: Plan it for a Friday (when parliament isn’t sitting) and tell the elected member that you will have professional photographs, a press release and tweets to share following the event.
3. Host an event at Party Conference
Each year political parties will meet up to discuss their priorities for the year ahead with events open to all party members. These Party Conferences are an ideal opportunity to influence the membership base at the very time they are deciding on their policies and approach. You can run stalls, panel discussions or debates.
There will be a cost associated with these events, ranging from hundreds to thousands of pounds depending on scale. Don’t choose the political party you vote for, instead choose the party you feel you need to influence most or who would be your greatest ally.
4. Suggest Questions
Part of an elected member’s day job is to ask questions, the highest profile example of this is at Prime Minister’s Questions but most questions are submitted in writing. There is a whole database of submitted questions and their answers. Try searching for your topic to see what is already being discussed. Questions can be used by researchers to either get more information or to highlight areas of concern. To submit a question you’d contact your local constituency MP (or an MP you know has a very direct interest in the topic) and ask them to put the question forward. Make sure you explain why this is an important question.
5. Give Oral Evidence
Committees will invite experts (e.g. academics or people with lived experience) to come and share their experience and knowledge with the Committee members. This often follows the public consultation stage where written views are gathered. While this is an invite-only process you can demonstrate your willingness to contribute through a consolation response or getting in touch with the public contact for the committee. Bear in mind that Committees tend to work on discreet topics at any one time, so be sure to tie your expertise to a particular topic currently under investigation. You can also watch committee meetings online or in person (booking/invite may be required).
6. Contact an APPG
Committees are formal groups with a defined role in the parliamentary process but there are also All Party Parliamentary Groups (known as Cross Party Groups in Scotland & Wales). These are effectively interest groups, where small groups of politicians choose to meet and explore topics they care about. There are currently over 750 APPGs covering topics from Aerospace to Zoos so you are likely to find one aligned to your subject area. Keep up to date with their work, attend their meetings and where possible contribute to their discussion. They may invite external speakers or request evidence for reports. The groups also look for external organisations to act as Secretariat.
7. Write briefings
Briefs are short document designed to bring policy makers up to speed before a debate or a vote. While parliament produce their own briefs you may wish to supplement these with ones of your own. A brief should give a comprehensive overview while being as short and accessible as possible. An internal parliamentary brief will typically be around 3,000 words and contain 100-200 references for further reading. You can find out more about how to write a brief on the UK parliament website.
8. Hold an event in Parliament
The UKs parliaments host hundreds over events ever year; receptions, poster sessions, panel discussions, talks and training sessions. These events bring topics to the heart of the policy making process and allow elected members and civil servants to find out more about topics. If you’d like to hold an event in parliament then you will need a parliamentary sponsor (an elected member who is willing to support the event). Think about why the event is being held perhaps it is a special anniversary or tying in with a national day. If possible, involve lots of different voices in your event and use it to amplify the voices of communities effected by the topic.
9. Propose an Early Day Motion
While Early Day Motions are not a means to directly influence policy, they can demonstrate to funders that Parliament recognises the value of your work. An Early Day Motion is a short statement that is accepted by Parliament, they must be non-controversial as they will not be accepted if there is something which a Member might object to. They are often used to congratulate an achievement, celebrate an anniversary or acknowledge an issue. For example, you might have an EDM congratulating a University on its 300th Anniversary, or celebrating a research institution winning international prize. To propose an EDM you would contact your local elected member and work with them to produce the wording of it.
10. Sit on an Advisory Group, Board or Council
Governments need to bring in experts to offer advice and oversight for complex topics and this is done through Advisory Groups, Boards and Councils. Of all the routes mentioned here, this is the trickiest as the positions are selective and rare, but they are important and very influential positions. To put yourself forward you will have to respond to an open call for members, to stand your best chance of seeing these calls sign up to the Knowledge Exchange Unit’s weekly email as well as keeping up to date with Public Appointments.
These 10 routes are powerful and have been used very effectively in the past, but it is a non-exhaustive list. Remember that there are many other routes to make your voice heard: voting, petitions, protests, attending surgeries or even standing for election yourself.
Jamie is an engagement trainer and consultant with over ten years’ experience in the delivery and evaluation of quality research engagement projects.
He has been trained by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre in policy engagement for researchers and runs workshops and seminars helping researchers navigate the policy landscape to achieve measurable impact. See here for more information on the policy engagement training he offers.