· Increasing the accessibility and impact of your work
· New collaborations and potential interdisciplinary work
· Improving your ability to communicate your research
And to top it all, our Science in Policy events typically come with free wine – what more incentive do you need?!
We then welcomed our guest speaker, Peter Styring, Professor of Public Engagement at the University of Sheffield. He had some top tips to share from his dizzying career in policy engagement, which has taken him to international conferences and seen him networking with world ambassadors. His particular area of expertise is area of expertise is carbon capture and recycling and he has played a key role in turning this formerly unknown concept into an established policy on the climate change agenda.
Speak the language politicians understand
It can be easy to forget how incomprehensible scientific papers can be for the wider population. “Government officials are not going to read a 50-page document” said Peter. “Always make an executive summary of your work that is a single page of A4 with big font and bullet points”. After all, chances are that the only time an MP will have to read it is in the back of their BMW or on the train ride home from the office.
Get the media onside – be strategic!
Despite the horror stories we hear of research being hyped into exaggerated headlines, the media can be a powerful ally. Possibly the most important publication Peter has contributed to is “the seminal document”: Carbon Capture and Utilisation in the green economy. “This has been citied over 2,300 times compared with a similar paper in Chemical Communications, which was only cited 211 times.” Peter said. What made the difference? Strategically staging a press conference at the Welcome Centre in London. Even though only two journalists came, crucially one of these was for the Guardian. “Politicians don’t read scientific papers but they do read the Guardian” said Peter. “In the past, we have also paid a premium price to get coverage in the very centre pages of Politics First, which every MP reads”.
It doesn’t all just happen in Westminster – you can make a lot of difference even at a local level. “Local politics can be a very good opportunity for students and academics to feed into the political system” said Peter. He cited the example of the STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Groups) and how their activities had started a national conversation about the value of urban trees. “Go to council meetings and consultations and get to know your local councillor” Peter advised. “Take the time to write snail mail about an issue that is important to you– emails can get deleted but a letter won’t be ignored”.
Be aware of the difference between advising and lobbying
Far too often, politicians are approached by people with an agenda and this can ultimately bias decision making in favour of those who shout loudest. “It is very important not to confuse lobbying with advising” said Peter. “Scientists should be advising as part of their professional life, but keep lobbying to your private life.” How can this be done? “Make sure any evidence you present has been scrutinised. Look at every possible option and every side of the story. Never stick your head on the block and say ‘This is the only way to do it’ - you will be shot down".
Keeping these points in mind, you can make sure your experiences with policy making are positive and impactful ones.