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Public Policy|Southampton

Engaging with policymakers | Things to consider

Engaging with policymakers

From our experience of supporting engagement between policymakers and researchers we have constructed the following simple do's and don'ts to consider during the science to policy process.

1. Make sure you’re speaking to the right person/people – do your homework first! If necessary, ‘use people to find people’. The subject must be compelling for the audience, and your message tailored accordingly.

2. Always 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, and vice versa.

3. Always prepare for face-to-face communication with policymakers by having a bullet-point briefing (with headings such as ‘issue’, ‘considerations’, ‘options and costs’) ready, and some high-impact succinct material to leave with them. All communications must be brief and digestible. Any views should be honest and balanced – this will help build trust and ensure that you are seen as a reliable and independent source of expertise in the area. Always acknowledge and identify uncertainties.

4. Giving policymakers options is the best way of getting science into policy. It is better to present four or five options and make points about the pros and cons of each, rather than to say ‘you must do this’. This gives the policymaker scope to make a decision vis-à-vis the policy trends and political acceptability. Options that do not map onto present policy trends will almost certainly be ignored. However, be prepared to form an opinion on the possible options even when information is incomplete.

5. 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.

6. Keep contacts information up to date – new policymakers emerge and people move on all the time.

7. Be proactive about building relationships - policymakers never have much time so are likely just to call the scientist they know.

8. Long-term relationships with frequent interaction and feedback are critical to building mutual understanding and trust. This works well in devolved, local and regional government; it is harder to achieve in Whitehall and Westminster, although it is important here too.

9. Remember the media’s influence on policymakers – MPs read newspapers and listen to the radio.

10. Influencing policy is also about influencing pressure groups, think tanks, the public etc, not just government policymakers. A many-pronged approach can be particularly effective.

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