Key points to bear in mind:
- Familiarise yourself with the political process so that you know how and when you can influence government legislation.
- Check the UK Parliament website every Friday morning to find out whether any pertinent debates or committee meetings have been scheduled for the following week – these offer an opportunity to contact the policymakers who can make use of your research findings.
- MPs and peers tend to focus on a handful of issues in which they are particularly interested. Only contact those who have already expressed an interest in the area of your research
- Remember that most MPs and peers will use research only to the extent to which it impacts upon public policy in a practical sense. They are usually in search of information that can be used to strengthen their particular point of view.
The most important target audience for influencing public policy is the government – both local and national government, and politicians and civil servants.
Key points to bear in mind:
- Peers, MPs and public servants receive hundreds of letters and emails every week – you must grab their attention quickly. Say within the first paragraph that you are writing to them because you know of their interest in the subject.
- Civil servants are more likely than politicians to be interested in the details of research and research findings. They tend to work in the same position for a number of years, and often specialise in very detailed and technical aspects of policy.
- Ensure that any briefing documents you supply are no longer than three pages – if they want further detail, they will request it. Civil servants are better able to appreciate and receive longer documents, but you should also provide an executive summary.
Contact the information offices in Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly for details of committee memberships, forthcoming business, parliamentary and legislative procedures. Also check which relevant policy issues may have been devolved.
Influencing key people in government
Influencing political parties
Politicians tend to be members of political parties, and it is important not to overlook their role in formulating policy. Many policies are overtly political rather than administrative, so the main impetus behind them will have come from within the parties.
Each party has established a number of policy groups, which may include politicians, party members and outside experts. They also have teams of researchers whose job is to come up with good ideas that can be translated into policy commitments.
Contact the political parties' headquarters to find out which policy groups are working on areas related to your research. This will give you access to the parties' internal policymaking structures.
Think tanks are organisations whose purpose is to interest politicians in ideas. They supply political parties with broad concepts which can serve as the foundation for developing detailed policies.
Many operate across the spectrum of policy issues, while others tend to focus on a few particular areas. Some are well connected with the Labour party, others with the Conservative party, and others again are generally independent.
What unites them is that they are involved in politics as a battle of ideas. As such, think-tanks are always eager to find new, even radical, thinking about policy issues. This makes them a natural target for social science researchers wishing to influence the policy agenda.