Policymakers rely on good research to inform their work, but they are bombarded with information from a variety of sources. To ensure they take notice of your research, you need to present it to them in a form that is accessible and useful. The term policymaker can be used to describe anyone who is involved in any stage of the policymaking process from MPs, civil servants, and regulatory bodies.
Think about the range of communication tools at your disposal and the preferred channels of communication for your target audience of policymakers.
Key points to bear in mind when communicating to policymakers:
Target your communications
- Always target a specific group, for example the MPs on a particular committee or all-party group. If your public affairs strategy is unfocused, this will reflect badly on you and may suggest that your evidence may be unfocused too.
- Don't just do what everyone else is doing, particularly if time and money are tight. For example, exhibiting at party conferences is very expensive and you will be one small fish in a very large pool. Think about more original ways to reach your audience, such as organising a small, high quality seminar at a quieter time in the political calendar.
Use clear, relevant messages
- Be clear about your messages and make sure they are compelling for policymakers in your target group. A civil servant working on detailed legislation has different needs from someone generating new ideas in a policy unit.
- Don't present findings in too academic a style – keep your initial communications succinct and to the point. You can always follow up with more detail if it is requested. If you are asking policymakers to do something specific, such as to chair an event or meet with you, ask directly.
- Prepare for face-to-face communication with policymakers by having a bullet point briefing ready and make sure you leave some high-impact, succinct material behind after the meeting (see the Networking section).
- Emphasise what you can do for policymakers as well as asking what they can do for you – explain how your input will take their agenda forward and support their priorities.
- Follow up face-to-face contact with a short letter of thanks reinforcing the main points from the meeting and creating the opportunity for future contact.
Build and maintain contacts
- Remember that the media is an important and influential channel to reach policymakers. Read the section on media relations carefully.
- Be proactive and always look for new opportunities. Don't be complacent and never over-estimate your own contacts and influence. New policymakers emerge all the time and you need to keep up to date with developments. For more on this, see the section on maintaining contacts.
- Think about regular opportunities to stay in touch with your target audiences to throughout your project. Include more formal activities such as sending them publications and less formal ones such as sending out Christmas cards.
- Always be helpful if approached by a policymaker – they will appreciate and remember it as they are usually working under pressure.
Avoiding the stumbling points
- Policymakers are often working under tight deadlines and high workloads. Although one subject might be of interest one month this might not be relevant a few months down the line. Keeping in touch or monitoring interest can be the key to giving timely and relevant research briefings.
- Finding the right named individual contact can often be difficult. This can be because people move around departments or details not being publicly available. However the contacts and help section offers a good starting point for most government departments.
- Often your research will need to jostle for the attention of your target policymakers as they will be contacted by a number of individuals, pressure groups and think tanks. Therefore it can often be difficult to talk to individuals on the phone.
- With so many civil servants, Members of Parliament and Peers, being directed to the correct person on the telephone can be difficult. However, with persistence and patience this can be an effective method for getting the messages of your research across.