Influencing policy: a researcher’s perspective

From William Kay, postgraduate researcher, Swansea University

Will delivering his workshop – “an introduction to policy making for ecologists” – to Bioscience undergraduates at the British Ecological Society Summer School

“I feel more passionate than ever about the need to support scientists in the role that they play in policy making.”

Having recently returned to my PhD, following a Science Policy internship at the Royal Society in London, I feel more passionate than ever about the need to support scientists in the role that they play in policy making.

For many researchers, “policy” is at best considered a dry subject, and at worst one which they find frustrating, think is not worth engaging with, or simply do not understand. There is, arguably, good reason to pass this judgement – while at face value policy is quite simply just a set of actions laid out to achieve a goal, in practice it is a rather more complex and challenging puzzle involving many forms of evidence, including financial, ethical and scientific.

Scientific evidence is extremely valuable, but unfortunately does not always speak for itself. It is more important than ever that researchers strive to have their voices heard and help to contribute to the development of trustworthy and thorough, evidence-informed policy.

This can be as simple as joining a relevant learned society and subscribing to their policy updates, listening to parliamentary podcasts […]”

One of the ways I support other researchers to develop their policy skills and knowledge is through short, interactive policy workshops which teach attendees about the UK Parliament and Government, why policy matters, and how they can (easily) increase their awareness and get involved. This can be as simple as joining a relevant learned society and subscribing to their policy updates, listening to parliamentary podcasts, or simply following relevant policy institutions on Twitter. I have also created a “list” on my own Twitter account, which my followers can subscribe to, to receive frequent updates.

My advice for individuals with limited policy experience would be to first see if there are any networks that they can join to help get up to speed – in my field of ecology this could be, for example, the British Ecological Society’s policy groups. It is far easier to begin discussing policy issues within a group and find out how you can contribute, before producing anything solely by yourself.

“Consider visiting directly the UK Parliament webpages to view open Calls for Evidence and consider submitting evidence to these”

For individuals with already some experience, consider visiting directly the UK Parliament webpages to view open Calls for Evidence and consider submitting evidence to these. Evidence can also be sent directly to Select Committees or All Party Parliamentary Groups for discussion, and there is a wealth of useful resources online which can help you to write submissions and convey your evidence in ways that are understood by a non-academic audience.

For more information you could start by visiting Taylor & Francis Author Services’ own guide, ‘Getting your research into Parliament’.


Follow Will on Twitter at @WillpKay

William Kay is a postgraduate researcher at Swansea University currently studying towards a PhD in Biological Sciences with a background in Marine Biology. His research project is linked with Natural Resources Wales and investigates the movement ecology of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) in Wales and their interactions with renewable energy developments, with an aim to produce evidence for regulating and licensing new marine energy installations. Will has a keen interest in policy making and has recently finished a Science Policy internship at the Royal Society in London. He is a Member of the Royal Society of Biology, and a member of the BES Wales Policy Group.