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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Placement with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Intergration

Nina Schuller
Nina Schuller

I have recently returned to my Web Science iPhD after a three month placement with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on social integration, chaired by Chuka Umunna MP.

I had a national policy role some years ago focused on age equality and intergenerational relationships.  Together with the knowledge I had gained on the iPhD this seemed to place me in a good position to offer the APPG Secretariat (delivered by an organisation called ‘the Challenge’) some support on the APPG’s digital technologies and intergenerational relationships workstream.  I was initially considering offering this support as voluntary work outside my PhD, but I then spoke to the University about the possibility of doing a placement and worked with the University Policy Team to set this up. 

This was the best option as it allowed me to concentrate my mind on the work of the APPG. The APPG were due to publish their final report this autumn, so there was very little time to undertake new research.  There was, however, time to review any existing relevant literature and address obvious gaps as far as deadlines allowed.   

Although policy staff are meant to be informed advisers, they will not necessarily routinely access academic research.  They have to shape their work according to political demands.  This will include taking account of political objectives, resource and time constraints, findings from stakeholder consultations, and the views of politicians themselves.   Ultimately solutions have to be relatively simple and explainable to a wider group of stakeholders.

I was able to offer the APPG Secretariat access to summaries of academic findings that they might not otherwise have come across, but I was also aware of the political constraints they were working with and was sensitive to these. 

To begin with we agreed a set of policy focused questions which arose out of their previous work on an interim report.  The APPG were particularly interested in how digital technologies were interacting with connections made between younger and older age groups, and those most at risk of loneliness.

Over the next couple of months I wrote rapid literature scans that sought to identify any existing findings in relation to these questions.  I investigated a wide range of literature across different disciplines.  The literature on digital technologies and family relations (mainly academic research) was separate from that of digital technologies and non-familial relationships (mainly practice based), and then there was further information on use of technologies and media by specific age groups which had some relevance.

I worked with the APPG Secretariat to identify findings and gaps in the information. I also advised the APPG Secretariat to contact a range of other stakeholders in order to ensure there was a balanced perspective - rather than rely too heavily on my literature scans. 

My final report included summaries of my literature scans in response to each of the initial policy focused questions.  These findings could not simply answer those questions, but rather they provided a summary of current understanding (as far as I could take this within the three months).  I made several simple policy recommendations on the basis of this content.  These were just my own recommendations and there is no guarantee that they will be used within the final APPG report which will be influenced by other information sources and is subject to political approval. But such recommendations are useful from the viewpoint of policy audiences, which is why I included them.

Implications for the PhD

Although the placement did not match directly to my PhD topic, it was useful in reminding me of the complexity of connections between interdisciplinary academic findings, policy and implementation.  I wanted to draw on some my experiences as a policy officer as well as the knowledge and skills I had acquired within the iPhD.  

This was important to me as my Web Science iPhD is interdisciplinary. I have supervisors in both politics/public policy and sociology, and I am looking at an intersection between politics, society and the Web.

During the placement I found that each discipline offered a different view point.  I attempted to integrate these into my reports for the APPG, but also found increasing crossover between disciplines.   In the past, studies of digital technologies and social relationships may have mainly focused on online contact, but many disciplines are now looking at how such connections are formed both offline and online - and considering how personal characteristics and circumstances might influence these.  

I recommended that this be considered within the APPG’s report – with the potential for blended online/offline approaches to be more integrated into Government digital strategy.  These findings are also making me think hard about how I design my own piece of research within the iPhD. 


Nina Schuller is a PhD Candidate in Web Science in the Faculty of Social Sciences. 

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