Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Research Impact and Parliament

My colleague Jacqueline Aldridge, co-author of The Research Funding Toolkit, attended a recent event hosted by the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), which gave academic researchers an insight into how they can best contribute to the parliamentary process. 

Jacqueline kindly agreed to summarise the main points that arose from the day. Huge thanks to her for doing so, and do get in touch if you any questions arising from these.


The event involved key stakeholders within Parliament, including the Speaker of the House of Commons, two MPs, clerk, chief librarian and representatives from POST. Contributors provided surprisingly frank insights into the workings of parliament and how different stakeholders access and use academic research.

Here is a summary of the five main insights: 

The job of parliament is to scrutinise.
Parliament’s job is to scrutinise planned legislation and hold government to account.  Academic research can help parliament cast the necessary critical eye over government proposals.  If you can evidence that your research helped parliament scrutinise, that’s impact.  Apparently, many REF impact case studies based on parliamentary activity were very over stated and lost credibility.

MPs occupy a ‘different epistemological universe’.

Research evidence is just one source parliamentarians may (or may not) use in their decision making.  They also rely on other forms of knowledge, such as the lived experience of constituents.   To this end, initial policy ideas are often formulated on the basis of hunches and ideology.  By the time research gets to play its part, plans may be fixed and your evidence regarding their wisdom may be less relevant.

MPs need research that they can understand and use

MPs may not be familiar with statistics or academic research methodology.  Even those with research training have no time to read academic journal articles.  Generally, they want a synthesis of the entire evidence base rather than details of one researcher’s incremental contribution.  It will also help if you can provide a unique perspective on a problem that helps the specific user of your research impress parliamentary colleagues.

Show that you are trustworthy source

MPs automatically query the motives of those who contact them with information or ideas.  This means that they need reassurance about your personal agenda.   This is why POST, parliamentary clerks or either the Commons or Lords libraries can be a useful conduit for your findings.  Think tanks can also have a place in brokering knowledge between academics and parliament.

Establish your knowledge brand

You will be competing with lots of other sources of information and evidence.  It is useful if you can establish a ‘brand’ for the knowledge you produce with colleagues, your department or across your institution.  Social media are a good way to raise your profile. 

You can get more information on the POST website, or on their Research Impact handout (pdf).  In addition, we have notes from the Grants Factory event focusing on 'engaging with politicians and policymakers', here. 

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