So, you want to influence policymaking?

5 May 2020


Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

10 Tips for Early-Career Researchers Interested in the Science-Policy Interface

In late April, CSaP hosted a professional development workshop for early career researchers from the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in the Application of Artificial Intelligence to the study of Environmental Risks (AI4ER) to explore how researchers can successfully engage with policymaking processes. Throughout the session, Dr Rob Doubleday, James Cemmell, Professor Bill Sutherland, and Dr Emily Shuckburgh shared lessons they have learned while operating at the science-policy interface. Based on their insights and experiences, we have collated their wisdom into ten tips for researchers interested in engaging with policymaking:

1. As per the IPCC’s mantra, science communication should be public and policy-relevant, but not policy prescriptive. It is important for researchers to understand that science alone never determines policy. Rather, scientific evidence is one of the many important inputs into policymaking processes.

2. Take a systems perspective when communicating evidence with policymakers. Where possible, explore and quantify the possible impacts of your work. Be realistic about costs, constraints, and how the policy issue your work addresses fits into the broader picture.

3. Think ahead. Horizon scanning can help scientists to understand what types of evidence will be useful to policymakers in the years ahead, creating time to set relevant research agendas and develop the evidence which will shed insight into up and coming issues. Meanwhile, literature reviews and systematic reviews can help policymakers understand the array of available solutions the evidence base suggests might be useful for addressing problems they face. When designing your next research project or communications piece, ask yourself: ‘What policies are people thinking of introducing? What is the next big debate or challenge society will be thinking about? How can my work help tackle those challenges? What questions, if answered, would make the most difference in my field?’

4. Keep abreast of opportunities to input evidence into policymaking cycles. Windows of opportunity are often short, and impact comes from participating in the conversation before decisions are made. Take advantage of policy windows and use them as an opportunity to inject your knowledge into the conversation.

5. Know your audience. Effective engagement comes from understanding the roles and responsibilities of the civil servants or policymakers you are engaging with, and from understanding what their departments or select committees are trying to achieve.

6. Tailor your language when engaging in science communication, so that policymakers can learn – in terms they are familiar with – how your evidence fits into their understanding of the world.

7. Marketing matters. Scientists whose presence and research are available and widely accessible get their insights and evidence used. Consequently, it is important to communicate what you are doing in ways that will reach policymaking audiences. Sometimes, a phone call to the right person at the right time will be enough. More often however, you will need to take a tactical approach to communicating your work, including thinking about PR, marketing, and grassroots level involvement.

8. Engagement with policymaking spaces should involve going beyond connecting with political actors. Civil servants seeking technical solutions may be interested in your research, while collaborating with other researchers interested in policymaking can help increase the breadth of conversations in which you might be able to play a part.

9. Openness, and the ability to act as a bridge across disciplines or between political and technical communities can increase your influence when working at the science-policy interface.

10. Engagement at the science-policy interface is an ongoing process rather than a single conversation. Successfully sharing evidence with policymakers and achieving impact will involve an iterative process of development, preparation, relationship building, and dialogue, with the goal of finding or creating moments in which your research will be relevant and useful to a policy conversation or decision-making process.


Photo by Karlis Reimanis on Unsplash.