Research, Impact and the UK Parliament – Event Report

Katie Drax, Honorary Research Assistant at the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group (TARG)

Science can inform how society is run so research can have implications for public and private policy. But how? How can research feed into policy-making, i.e. evidence-based policy? For those who don’t have a clue about parliamentary actions or how they relate to academics’ work the “Research, Impact and the UK Parliament” event series is a good way to get to grips with Parliament and research.

Starting at 10 a.m. we pinned name badges to our shirts and busied ourselves by riffling through the Houses of Parliament tote bags placed on our seats. Thankfully the event did not require much prior knowledge since it was assumed the majority of attendees were ignorant about the workings of Parliament and so the first presentation was a 30 minute crash course on the subject.

Naomi Saint speaking at the ‘Research, Impact, and the UK Parliament’ event, Bristol University

Naomi Saint (UK Parliament Universities Programme) walked us through the role and structure of Parliament using a multiple-choice quiz. Most of us seemed to already know the answers but only a few remained confident when the subject turned to how research is used in Parliament . Naomi clearly explained the major ways research is used and advised us on how researchers could best increase their own impact on policy. She even gave us tips on how to make sure Parliamentarians read your email.

Once Naomi had answered our many questions we all split into groups and were directed to different rooms. We all heard the same three talks, just in different orders so speakers could rotate between rooms. Each talk focused on a different route academics can take to engage with Parliament and impact policy, the talks were:

  • What is good Select Committee evidence by Dr Philip Larkin
  • Engaging with UK Parliamentarians by Naomi Saint and Sophie Scragg.
  • Academics and the UK Parliament by Dr Caroline Kenny

In my group we heard first from Dr Philip Larkin (Scrutiny Unit, House of Commons), which proved to be my personal favourite. His expertise was impressive and we bombarded him with so many questions we almost ran out of time. Select Committees are apparently one of the most effective, and most common, ways for academics to inform policy. This is why Philip’s expert advice on how to best communicate with Select Committees was so useful. Also, it is always nice to hear that evidence based policy is “sort of alive”. Like Naomi, Philip outlined how to contact Select Committees and told us about the many ways academics can get involved in policy-making.

Next we had Naomi telling us how to engage with Parliamentarians and she showed how informative certain information on Parliamentarians’ can be for professional, as well as personal, interests. Writing to your MPs is a common form of activism but none of us knew how we could identify MPs and Peers most relevant to our own work. Naomi recommended some ways to find out Parliamentarians’ interests, one I particularly liked was using All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) membership. I enjoyed scrolling through the surprisingly diverse number of APPGs and finding out which one my MP was a member of.

Finally Dr Caroline Kenny (POST) spoke to us about her REF research in which she analysed the impact case studies of the 2014 REF. Learning how UK academics interact with policy revealed some options for impact that we didn’t know existed and also showed which routes were most popular. Caroline suggested the reasons behind the difference of popularity between methods of impact which was also useful in knowing how academics can break into the lesser used means of communication.

After our three talks we all came back together to hear about the experiences of Professor Shelia Ellwood during her time working with Parliament. Her positive story was encouraging and really showed how engaging with Parliament is worthwhile and genuinely does guide policy. Finally we had the opportunity to ask the panel any questions we had before finishing for lunch and networking with other attendees.

The day was informative and inspiring, knowledge is powerful and informing academics about how they might change policy is a very important step to improving the evidence in evidence-based policy.