Influencing policy

By Dr Sarah Foxen, Liz Shutt and Dr Hinrich Voss

About the author

Dr Sarah Foxen is a Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Liz Shutt is Director of Policy at University of Lincoln and Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Dr Hinrich Voss is an Associate Professor in International Business interested in the international business strategies of multinational enterprises (MNEs).

This blog post should be used by academics to understand the ways they can engage with Parliament, Government and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). The post contains links to a whole host of useful information, as well as some top tips and things to be aware of when working with policy-makers.

Engaging with Parliament

Parliament has developed an online hub containing everything you need to know to engage with Parliament as a researcher, which includes:

There’s no need replicate all the great information found on the hub in this blog post, but if you’re an academic looking to engage with Parliament, here are some additional top tips and things to be aware of:

  • There’s a new Twitter account publicising engagement opportunities. Follow it.
  • For Select Committee inquiries, your responses don’t need to address all the Terms of Reference. Aim to be concise: an Executive Summary with key bullet points can be very effective. Try not to go over two pages. Committee staff appreciate you submitting evidence early on; don’t leave it to the deadline.
  • Academics may be invited to give oral evidence. These sessions are not interrogations (they aren’t like when a Government minister is being questioned), they’re just a chance for parliamentarians to hear and learn from the experts. In some cases, the sooner written evidence is submitted, the more likely you are to be called to give oral evidence.
  • Committees can advertise for Specialist Advisers. These are paid roles and often go to people who have contributed to previous parliamentary inquiries.
  • When contributing to a Committee inquiry, consider wording your response with “liftable soundbites”, e.g. succinct and catchy phrases that could be used in isolation from the rest of the text. This might make it easier to track your involvement in policy development.
  • POST relies on academic expertise and research to write its briefings. Keep an eye on their work programme or subscribe to their mailing list to make sure you know what they are working on. If your subject comes up, offer your expertise or research.
  • Library Research Briefings can be updated at any point if there is a significant change, so if you’re an expert in the topic of a particular briefing, consider submitting a short summary of an update you’d recommend to the parliamentary specialist and offer to provide more information if necessary.
  • All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are groups of MPs who share a particular special interest. Identify which APPGs relate to your line of work and offer to present during one of their meetings, contribute to an inquiry, or invite the MPs to a university event.
  • Before reaching out to someone in Parliament, have it clear in your mind why you want to and what you want to achieve through doing so.

Engaging with Government

The Open Innovation Team was set up in August 2016 to help Whitehall Departments generate analysis and ideas by deepening collaboration with academics. You can find out more about the Team’s activities on Twitter, as well as reading the Government’s short guide to engaging with Government for academics. The Director of Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI), Professor Adam Crawford, has also written a comprehensive post for the Research Leeds Blog on the changing relationship between Government policy and research: opportunities to influence policy?.

In addition to the information in their guide, here are some top tips and things to be aware of:

  • In any communication with Government:
    • Set the scene (quickly!)
    • Give the answer first
    • Use real people and real problems – make your correspondence relatable
  • A number of Government Departments have published a document outlining their Areas of Research Interest (ARIs). The Open Innovation Team strongly recommend universities map their academic expertise against these ARIs and submit this to the relevant Department.
  • Presentations for Government need to be short and answer “so what?” very quickly. Don’t wait until the end for the big reveal, ministers don’t always want the back story. Any presentation you give should also tell ministers what they need to do to address the problem – this may seem overly confident, but ministers want to be advised on what to do by experts.

Engaging with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

There are 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across England. LEPs are business led partnerships between local authorities and local private sector businesses. They play a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and job creation, improve infrastructure and raise workforce skills within the local area. LEP boards are led by a business Chair and board members are local leaders of industry (including SMEs), educational institutions and the public sector.

Here are some top tips and things to be aware of for LEPs:

  • Come to LEPs with solutions, not problems
  • Keep things simple, but don’t lose depth (this is tricky to master, but worth doing)
  • There is a lot of data available to LEPs but sometimes there is little capacity to pull out the “so what” this is an area that universities might be able to provide support.
  • Always think about local applications when contacting a LEP about your research
  • LEPs are driven by their key priorities – universities should look to align with these priorities if they want to create links.

Places to look to identify LEP key priorities and areas of common ground between academic research and LEPs:

  • Specific LEP websites, in particular look for your LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) – these can be found on the LEP Network site
  • The UK’s Industrial Strategy and localised industrial initiatives eg Northern Powerhouse, particularly around productivity, inclusive growth and boosting wage growth
  • In light of Brexit, the UK Government is proposing the development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to act as a replacement for the European Union (EU) Structural and Investment Funds the nation at present has access to. The UKSPF will tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity, especially in those parts of the country whose economies are furthest behind.
  • Government reviews of LEPs - In July 2018, the Government put forward a new proposal to “supercharge economic growth and drive forward investment in local businesses across the country”. LEPs are being asked to remove overlaps in geography, develop independent secretariats and increase diversity of Boards.
  • LEP Skills Advisory Boards - By 2020, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 36 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills. To address this, there’s cross-party support for increasing the number of apprenticeships and improving Further Education opportunities. LEP Skills Advisory Boards look at local level to evidence skills gaps and targeted priorities they are being asked to look at data sets and draw out conclusions for their locality and link action plans back to this analysis.

In short, identifying the most effective routes to meeting industrial initiatives, tackling local inequalities and addressing skills gaps are the most common themes academics should focus on when looking to work with LEPs.

 

Case study: Modern Slavery Inquiry – Dr Hinrich Voss

A team of interdisciplinary researchers from the University of Leeds recently submitted written evidence to a Select Committee Inquiry on Modern Slavery. Here, Dr Hinrich Voss tells us about his personal experience of engaging with parliament.

How did you hear about the parliamentary inquiry?

One of the Co-Investigators of our British Academy funded project, Pulling a Thread: Unravelling the Trail of Modern Slavery in the Fashion and Textile Industry, pointed out that there was an inquiry to which we could contribute.

How did you decide who to write a response with?

As Principal Investigator of the Pulling a Thread research project, I crafted the first draft of the response and the whole team was invited to comment and make amendments. The team includes Co-Investigators from across the University of Leeds, including Leeds University Business School, School of Geography, and School of Design. We also employed a Research Assistant for six months, who I asked to provide comments on the submission.

How long did the process take, from hearing about the inquiry, to submitting your response?

We had about a six to eight weeks lead time. Before we could craft our response, we had to progress with our research so that we could present the best possible evidence. The evidence we presented is based on the desk-based research we conducted for the Pulling a Thread project and has been influenced by the interviews we have been conducted. The response itself was written within a few days.

As a group, approximately how much time was dedicated to responding to the inquiry (including any email conversations, drafting / editing / submitting the response, any follow up)?

About 12 hours.

Do you know what happens now you’ve submitted a response e.g. will you be contacted about outcomes of the inquiry, or asked to take part in any Committee discussions?

We have not been asked, so far, to take part in any hearings. We know that the evidence has been made publicly available.

Have you contributed to any parliamentary requests previously e.g. POSTnotes, Select Committees?

I have not. One of the Co-Investigators, Mark Sumner, recently submitted evidence to another inquiry and was invited to a hearing on 30 October 2018 (watch the Committee meeting on parliamentlive.tv). In his response to the other inquiry he also refers to our modern slavery research.

What was your opinion / knowledge of contributing to a parliamentary inquiry prior to your Modern Slavery response?

Knowledge of contributing was zero. My opinion was (and is) that it could be a helpful tool to achieve impact as well as show to the British Academy that our research has produced outputs.

 

For Leeds University Business School academics…

If you’re considering engaging with policy-makers, get in touch with the Research Office (research.LUBS@leeds.ac.uk). We can support you in:

  • finding the right people to speak to
  • identifying suitable calls
  • developing and editing content tailored to a policy-maker audience.

The content of this blog post is based on presentations and discussions from the Association of Research Managers and Administrators’ (ARMA) workshop on Wednesday 14 November 2018: Working with Political Institutions and Public Officials.

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