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How can researchers get involved with science policy?

last modified Oct 15, 2019 11:05 AM
The CambPlants Policy Lunch took place on the 19th September 2019. Here Rebekah Hinton (Part II undergraduate student in Plant Sciences) summarises what was said...

The coming few decades will present major challenges for the planet and its people. Ensuring that research within the sciences is translated into real changes in policy and practice is critical if scientific research is going to lead to the real change we need to see. But how do researchers start to go about getting involved in policy? Our three speakers - Lauren Milden, Franziska Fischer and Erin Cullen - spoke about their respective experiences, and gave advice to policy novices.

Lauren Milden was able to offer insight from the many policy makers and researchers she has worked alongside through her work as Policy Adviser at the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). She also shared observations from her previous work within public health policy. Franziska Fischer, a PhD student at Plant Sciences, shared her experiences of being on the Royal Society of Biology’s Education and Science Policy Committee alongside her work as a researcher, which has enabled her to work in both the policy and science sectors. Erin Cullen, also a PhD student at Plant Sciences, talked about her internship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).  The placement, undertaken as part of the DTP PhD programme, offered an understanding of the aspects of research that policy makers focus on.

This blog post summarises some of the advice and insights they offered and how you can get involved in science policy.


Get Informed

Being up to date with the latest developments in science and policy enables researchers to engage with the relevant policy makers and groups in a timely fashion. Furthermore, it assists scientists in informing the direction and focus their research can take to lead to this maximum impact. For example, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) develop summaries of key public policy issues called POSTnotes. Reading these is a great way to get a feel for the tone of policy documents and keeping an eye on upcoming POSTnote topics can help researchers to be prepared to submit evidence when a relevant topic goes live.


Get Involved

Getting involved in the world of policy not only enables scientists to develop connections, but also encourages a greater understanding of the workings of the policy world.

Becoming part of committees like the Royal Society of Biology’s Education and Science Policy Committee could be a great way to learn more about policy as well as having in impact in an area you feel passionately about.

Experience within centres and groups which make policy decisions can also be an invaluable way to get involved within the policy world.  Internships and placements, such as that undertaken by Erin Cullen at POST, are certainly worth exploring to truly gain an insight into the workings of policy making.


Get Impacting

Having the potential policy impacts of your work in mind throughout the research process can really help to focus your research. Involving and informing policy makers about your research from the beginning can help to develop contacts who are able to apply this research later on. CSaP are able to offer advice and contacts about policy makers who may be interested in hearing more about your research.  

Ensure your research is accessible. One of the key barriers to policy makers trying to access research is the cost of some publications, therefore, ensuring your research is available in some form of free publication can aid in ensuring the maximum impact. However, the research must also be understandable in terms of the language used - POSTnotes provide a useful reference of an accessible style. Blogs, policy briefings, and being present on social media can all work to increase both the visibility and understandability of your research, as well as the chance that it will be picked up on by policy makers.

Timing is critical. Policy makers tend to work on deadlines of hours/days whilst science projects are often working on the timescale of months/years. It can sometimes be tempting to hold off on getting involved in consultations (in which policy makers hold meetings with a variety of people working within the field) as well as calls for research when the research itself does not feel as though it is ready. However, in these cases timing really does matter. It is worth putting your research out there when there is a chance, even if it involves explaining that it is an ongoing project.

It is also worth remembering that some evidence is better than none. Not all policy can be completely evidence based, therefore do not be overly modest and assume there is someone else has a better idea or better evidence; whatever it is that you have researched is worth sharing.

Make the most of the services available. Cambridge has a variety of services and groups support scientists in using their research to inform policy makers. For example, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) is a university wide service that aims to connect scientists and policy makers in order to encourage effective use of evidence and expertise to change policy. They run a number of programmes including policy fellowships which bring together policy professionals from government, industry, and the third sector with university researchers. Their professional development sessions aim to develop the skills of early researchers necessary to engage within the world of policy. University societies The Wilberforce Society and CUSPE (Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange) also offer support and opportunities to gain experience with science policy. 

It is critical that scientists take an interest in, get involved in, and are able to inform policy decisions; it’s worth getting stuck into the world of policy as soon as you can!