Monday, 23 January 2017

Impacting Parliament: Giving MPs the Information They Need

 In the second of her guest posts, the University's Impact and Engagement Officer, Maddy Bell, shares some notes on what academics should bear in mind when working with Parliament.

Parliament is actively seeking external input to make informed decisions based on sound evidence. But MPs are under huge pressure – working long hours with limited opportunity to absorb key information. Given this, academics can play a crucial role in providing them with the knowledge and understanding they need to make better policy. 

At the end of last year I attended an event run by the Houses of Parliament Universities Programme that outlined the ways in which academics can engage.  Here I summarise these, and the potential impact your research can have from working with Parliament.

What is the scope?

20% of impact case studies in the last REF mentioned engagement with Parliament, and  88% of all universities and research centres referred to Parliament in their submissions. There were 23 different modes of engagement in 22 areas of Parliament. 

Potential impacts include informing legislative methods, influence on third parties, shaping policy and parliamentary practices, and raising awareness of key issues among MPs.

How do I get involved?

  • Contact your local MP. All MPs are searchable online
  • Contact a peer who shares your interest and might support you. Peers do not have constituencies and so you can search by interest areas online. Check profile pages to make sure that the member you contact is still active
  • Share your expertise with an All-Party Parliamentary Group. Search by area of interest online. APPGs are informal groups of MPs and Peers with some members outside of Parliament
  • Share your expertise with a Select Committee; the most common medium for connecting Parliament with academia. These committees conduct inquiries into how the Government works and issues such as the economy. The Government must respond to their reports. Sometimes committees appoint specialist advisers; often academics. So getting your name out there could lead to a direct approach
  • Submit evidence to a Public Bill Committee. These committees scrutinise specific bills after their second reading 
  • Connect with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. POST is Parliament’s source of advice, producing briefings and supporting committees. They run a number of events each year to connect Parliament with experts
  • If you’re not sure where to start, follow these bodies on social media for updates and opportunities to engage

Top tips for engaging with Parliament

There is so much potential for generating demonstrable impact from working with Parliament. To be successful, you need to hone your communication skills to get your point across to someone who is relatively informed, but who lacks the time to wade through reams of information.  
  • Think about your audience and how you can present your points in the clearest, most convincing way;
  • When writing, get to the point and be succinct. Use tables and links to limit your text. Include a summary at the top;
  • Use Plain English and if you need to use technical language – explain it;
  • Don’t exaggerate your knowledge. It’s acceptable not to have completed your research, not to know the answer to a question, and not to have every scrap of information to hand when questioned during a committee. Equally – try to suppress that imposter syndrome!
  • Oral presentation to a Select Committee can be more challenging. Read others’ evidence and liaise with the committee clerk. It is acceptable to submit supplementary evidence after presenting;
  • Sell your individuality: what can you offer that others can’t? Parliament is eager to hear from different people who have new evidence.  Think about how the issue relates to the work/interests of whoever you are contacting;
  • Think about what you’re aiming for and articulate it. What do you want your MP/APPG or committee to do with the information that you’re presenting to them? Why should they care? Make recommendations alongside your evidence;
  • And lastly – believe in yourself – you are the expert!
If you want to know more about Parliament and how it works, take a look at their website or attend one of their free events to learn more. For help and advice on impact and public engagement, drop me a line. 


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