Research plays an important role in the UK parliament; it can help MPs and Peers scrutinize government policy, examine pressing issues of the day and pass laws.
At the same time, getting research into parliament is important for individual researchers – it is one of the ways in which they can demonstrate the impact of their research, where impact is defined by the REF as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”.
So, what are the different ways in which research can enter parliament? What role does research play in the public sphere, and why does evidence matter? What steps can you take to help your research influence parliamentary matters?
Read a how-to guide to getting your research into Parliament, brought to you by Taylor & Francis, Sense about Science and POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).
Scroll to the bottom of this page and you can also catch up on our twinterview with Sarah Foxen from the Knowledge Exchange Unit in the UK Parliament on how to get research policy-ready.
There are a number of ways that research enters Parliament, and these range from the formal to the more ad hoc. Whilst giving evidence to Select Committees is perhaps the most well-established mechanism, there are a number of other routes, including through the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the Libraries and All-Party Parliamentary Groups. So, here’s some more on each of these:
Both the House of Commons and House of Lords have Select Committees, which are cross-party groups of Members that scrutinize the work of the Government. They do this through carrying out inquiries, for which they invite the public to submit written evidence. Parliament’s website regularly publishes calls for evidence, along with detailed guidelines for submission. Select Committees may also appoint a specialist adviser to provide expert advice, and this is often an academic.
POST is an institution of both Houses, which provides impartial information on topics in science and technology and supports the use of research evidence. One of the things POST does is produce briefing papers on research, placing findings in a policy context. POST is therefore keen for academics to get in touch, share their research and expertise, and contribute to POSTnotes. Details of current and upcoming work are available on POST’s webpages, along with staff contact details.
Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have a Library. These Libraries provide impartial information for Members and their staff through briefing papers and a confidential, one-to-one inquiry service. To engage with the Libraries, it is worth familiarizing yourself with their work, then sending them relevant research.
These are informal, cross-party groups of MPs and Peers centred on a particular topic. They exist on a wide variety of areas, from animal welfare to football. APPGs meet to discuss, campaign on and promote particular issues. They also host events and sometimes produce reports. A register of APPGs – along with contact details – is regularly updated, so get in touch with relevant APPGs and tell them about your research.
These aren’t the only routes by which research enters into Parliament. Other paths include: via correspondence with individual Members or their staff, through meeting at events, and via a third party such as a charity or think tank.
So, what can you do to help get your research into Parliament? Here are ten top tips:
“I’ve interacted with Parliament in a variety of ways throughout my (short) scientific career. I submitted written evidence to an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry, which successfully resulted in policy change. It was encouraging to see how my research contribution could positively impact national policy for the greater good. This motivated me to contact the EAC researcher to discuss my work further, which helped me understand what policymakers need from researchers to inform decisions.
I also participated in Set for Britain, a poster competition held in Parliament. This face-to-face interaction with MPs gave me the opportunity to explain my research, and why it matters, to the people who can make informed change. Providing evidence for policymaking is an important part of my role as a researcher – this is when evidence really matters. I look forward to doing more of this and would encourage other researchers, especially those early on in their career, to get involved too.”
– Dr Stephanie Wright, postdoctoral researcher, King’s College London
It’s not just researchers who care about evidence, the public does too. In fact, Sense about Science has taken this message to parliament.
On 1 November 2016, one hundred people from all walks of life and all over the UK came to Westminster for the Evidence Matters event. Fifteen of them spoke about why evidence matters to them, and heard responses from parliamentarians. Members of the public told parliamentarians and officials that:
Sense about Science held a similar event – with citizens from all over Europe – in the European parliament on 21st June 2017.
See videos of these events to hear from people about why evidence matters.
We recently interviewed Sarah Foxen from the Knowledge Exchange Unit at the UK Parliament (@UKParl_Research) about how to get research policy-ready. Below are our top five takeaways, but you can read the full twinterview (Twitter interview) in this Twitter moment.
Sarah told us that “Parliament is committed to diversifying the academics it engages with, & Twitter is one way to reach beyond ‘the usual suspects’ to a wider pool of researchers. Researchers can use the account to stay up to date on opportunities, find top tips from colleagues and those working in policy/research KE [Knowledge Exchange] and also get in contact with us.”
We asked if there were subject disciplines that weren’t relevant to policy. Sarah commented, “Actually, I don’t think there are. It’s a question of finding the *part* of your research that’s relevant. Often arts and humanities scholars seem to think their work is less relevant. That’s not true.… I saw two philosophers submit evidence to a Fake News inquiry, and there was recently an inquiry into the societal value of culture and sport – for which A&H research is spot on.”
Given that Parliamentarians are often pressed for time, how can researchers prepare their work for them, i.e. what format should the research take? What language should researchers use?
Sarah: “A one-page summary, with key findings/ recommendations & top-line research context is ideal for initial comms. Pitch your comms at an intelligent, non-specialist audience. Lose the jargon, & use bullet points, headings & charts to make it accessible & digestible. Think about the hook of your research, and practice talking about it with non-specialists. That way, if you bump into your local MP one afternoon in the supermarket, you’ll be ready for action!”
We asked “To what extent should researchers present recommendations to Parliamentarians? (Is this part of their role?)”
Sarah commented, “Parliamentarians want to make good decisions, so they want to hear experts’ recommendations. So yes, present your research, but don’t stop there, take the next step and share the implications of your findings and what you think should be done as a result.”
Sarah: “Parliamentarians are interested in research tied to parliamentary business. So, for example, relating to committee inquiries, legislation, debates, library and POST [Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology] briefings. You can find out more about what Parliament is interested in here. Stay up to date by signing up to alerts, or keep checking back this account [@UK_Parl_Research], of course!”
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