15 February 2017

Innovation fellow Zoe Detko is inspired by a Parliamentary training session for young researchers, suggesting ways you can input your science into the policy making process

Does anyone really know the difference between Parliament and Government, and what exactly their specific roles are? I’ve spent three months working as an intern in Whitehall for the Government Office for Science, and even I can get confused.

How are we then to know the avenues and alleyways through which we can try and use our science to influence decision makers?

Sophie Scragg from the Parliament Universities Programme came to Lancaster Environment Centre to guide us through the maze.

Sophie spoke to a group of PhD researchers on how best to communicate their science to interested MPs, Lords and other policy influencers. The session was organised by the Graduate School for the Environment, a new postgraduate training centre involving Lancaster Environment Centre, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Rothamsted Research,

Sophie started with the basics, in the form of an interactive multiple choice quiz. For each question most of the multiple answers were chosen by someone in the room, highlighting the confusion around the topic!

In summary we learnt that Parliament is made up of the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Monarch. Parliament makes and passes laws and scrutinise the Government. The Government runs public departments, proposes new laws and is accountable to Parliament. The Monarch is politically neutral and has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, dissolve parliament and reject new laws, yet she chooses not to.

We then moved on to the ins and outs of how Parliamentarians use research and how you can get your research into the mix. Here's what Sophie told us:

  • Select committees invite evidence from witnesses on various topics to input into inquiries. There’s a regularly updated list of active enquiries so it is worth investigating whether there are any topics for which your research might be useful.
  • Legislative committees often seek out evidence before a Bill is passed. This is collated by committees who take evidence from experts and interest groups from outside parliament. Again you can use the list of the Bills open for evidence to check if your research is relevant.
  • All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are small groups of MPs and Peers who have similar interests on a specific subject, covering a huge range of topics, from Energy and Climate Change, to Timber Industries. They meet, hold events, produce reports and run inquiries. Look through the current list of APPGs  to find out which MPs and Peers have an interest in topics related to your research.

The topics explored by the committees, and committee membership, change periodically: so your best bet is to check back regularly if there is nothing relating to your research currently active.

Sophie went on to advise about the methods that you should employ when submitting research.

  • You need to tailor your research to the specific inquiry, using its terms of reference
  • Answer the questions posed in the Call for Evidence – but you do not have to answer all of them
  • Write for an intelligent non-specialist: be relevant and concise

Overall we learnt that there are many opportunities for your research to shape policy, you just need to ensure that you look for them. It is unlikely that you are going to be called upon to submit evidence, especially if you haven’t registered your interest to do so. Look through the APPGs and find an MP that has interest in your subject and introduce yourself by email, regularly check the select committee topics and be proactive.

Alan Blackburn, Director of the Graduate School was inspired by the enthusiasm of the research students: “It was fantastic to see so many of our graduate school interested in learning how they can contribute to policy - we hope they will go on to make a difference!”. 

Maria Makaronidou, PhD student said: "It was an amazing opportunity being introduced to how a scientist could get involved in policy making. In particular, it was great to learn how I could input my scientific research into UK policy.”


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