Research matters in policymaking, and the feeling’s mutual

Research and policy should be the best of friends.

With university researchers under increasing pressure to demonstrate the impact of their work, and politicians requiring evidence to inform their policies and convince the public they’re making the best decisions, warm feelings should be mutual – research matters to policymaking, and policy making influences research.

Yet, despite the seemingly natural place for research in policy, the route between publishing research and getting it into Parliament (let alone into policy or implementation), is rarely straightforward. How should researchers approach helping their research to influence policy? Who do they need to communicate with in Parliament, and how should they go about it?

Flip the coin the other way – and policymakers have questions too. With all the research that’s out there (we’ve recently hit the 4 millionth journal article milestone on Taylor & Francis Online), where can policymakers go to find research to inform their work? How can they find the latest or ‘best’ research? Can they make sense of it? And how can they form connections with experts?

It’s complicated

Of course – it’s complicated, as researcher William Kay puts it ‘[policy] is a rather more complex and challenging puzzle – involving many forms of evidence, including financial, ethical, and scientific.’ Therefore the route to getting research into Parliament isn’t going to be as straightforward as following your GPS, but more like navigating Hampton Court Maze – without any guarantee of a final end-point at all. For instance, not all research is relevant for policy, and some whole disciplines lend themselves more than others.

Last year, Abigail Jones from Sense about Science, Sarah Foxen from POST, and I joined forces –  to come up with some simple practical tips for researchers to maximize their chances of getting their research into Parliament, and of influencing policy. We produced a blog post and accompanying cartoon titled ‘Getting your research into Parliament’.

The page has been viewed thousands of times, shared widely at academic conferences and events, researchers have shared their views in response, and we’ve received requests to create similar resources for outside the UK. We hope that in creating resources like this, we’ll help researchers feel more confident about how their research can make a difference outside of academia. This is especially important with ‘impact beyond academia’ one of the key assessment criteria for the REF, which is already starting to loom large again.

A snapshot

As Parliament’s in-house source of scientific advice, Sarah from POST shared her inside knowledge on what it takes for research to be picked up by policymakers. The 3 of us (myself, Sarah and Abigail) worked together to craft these into practical steps that researchers could follow. We then worked with an external illustrator to translate these into something visual (comic abstracts have been a big hit with researchers we work with at Taylor & Francis, generating over 12,000 extra downloads of journal articles, so this is the format we went with).

Here’s a snippet of the tips shared  from the guide :

Making connections

  1.   Be seen online or at events, so it’s easy for people to find you
  2.   Blog about your research so we know what you are working on
  3.   Follow what we are doing on the Parliament website and via Twitter
  4.   Sign up for relevant POST, Commons and Lords Library, and Select Committee alerts
  5.   Invite parliamentary staff to your events

Presenting research

  1.   Don’t just send your journal articles, send us a brief and include your sources
  2.   Be relevant, start with a summary and focus on how your research impacts people
  3.   Use visuals, a picture can paint a thousand words (and saves busy people time)
  4.   Be clear and accurate, including being explicit about all limitations and caveats
  5.   Don’t forget the essentials, including your contact details and date your outputs

You can read the full blog post and cartoon here.

Over to you

Do you have additional insights, reflections or tips on influencing policy? We’d love to add these to our Insights blog, to help support other researchers further. You can get in touch with me to discuss.

 

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