Please note that this blog piece was originally posted on Sarah Foxen’s personal blog and a version of it was published on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog. The post is re-published here with their permission.
By Sarah Foxen
I recently attended an RCUK-funded training day on research and policy. Part-way through one of the breakout sessions, it became apparent that my peers were sharing my frustrations with the training. We had expected to gain practical insight into how research feeds into policy, but instead the training had a rather more reflective focus, with the majority of speakers using their lectern time to perpetuate or challenge discourses surrounding academic impact.
As we discussed our frustrations, I shared with my breakout group what I had learnt during my Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) fellowship about the structures of Parliament and the ways research gets into Westminster, for example, the Select Committees have Twitter accounts through which they ask for input. Hearing this, every single member of my group reacted: be it by writing this information down, logging on to Twitter and hunting for ‘relevant’ Select Committees, or even creating a Twitter account.
To me the information I was sharing – a general understanding about the structures of Parliament and the available mechanisms by which research filters into Westminster – was simple and obvious, but judging by my peers’ reactions and responses, it was not. I thought what I knew was common knowledge, but it turns out it’s just the opposite. So, without further ado, let me share what I have learned about how research gets into Parliament.
1. Through the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
- POST provides independent, balanced analyses of topics in science and technology for both MPs and Peers
- The office publishes short briefings on relevant topics and also hosts events
- Input comes from a wide variety or sources including both academics and their research
- Committees set an agenda for inquiries they want to carry out
- They also ask for ideas for inquiries on Twitter or their webpages
- They get written and oral evidence from various sources including academics
- The outcome of an inquiry is a report, which Government is obliged to respond to
3. Through All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)
- APPGs are composed of MPs and Peers who have an interest in a particular area, e.g. ‘the aluminium industry’, ‘arts, health and wellbeing’ and ‘biodiversity’ (they are a bit like university societies)
- They hold meetings on different topics with invited speakers who are sometimes academic researchers
4. Through Political Researchers
- Some MPs employ researchers to work in their offices, carry out research and gather information for them
- An MP’s position in Government, for example ‘shadow secretary of state for health’, will impact on the sorts of information the researcher is tasked with gathering
- MPs and Peers have specific areas of interest on account of: the nature of their constituency; their political affiliation; or their general interests
- One of the ways they find out more about these areas of interest is through engaging with academics in relevant disciplines
6. Through Commons Debate Packs and Lords Briefing Packs
- When a debate is planned for a particular topic, for example ‘shale gas’, library specialists quickly compile briefing packs for MPs and peers ahead of the debate
- Packs may include news items, press releases and parliamentary material
- They may also include information from research centres
- (Lords Briefing Packs are not available externally)
- The House of Commons and House of Lords each have a library
- The Commons library has a number of subject specialists who research and write briefings on relevant topics
- The Lords library also produces briefings
- Some of the input comes from academics and their research
- The House of Commons library provides a confidential service for MPs and their staff wherein they can submit requests to the library for answers to questions they have
- Academic research, as well as other sources of information, may contribute to the response
9. Through the House of Lords Library Current Affairs Digest
- The House of Lords Library publishes a weekly current affairs digest
- The digest summarises articles from a variety of sources including journals, magazines, the press, think tank reports, blog posts and speeches
- Summaries are grouped into six areas: social policy, science, economic affairs, home affairs, international affairs and the constitution
NOTE: this post was updated on 11 April, 2016, to include a ninth way in which academics can engage with Parliament.
Sarah Foxen is a PhD student in Linguistics, and as part of her doctoral research worked in the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. More information about Sarah and her research can be found here. She tweets @SarahFoxen.