Author: George Hope

Royal Society Pairing Scheme: Building collaborations with policymakers to support net zero

By Dr Malte Jansen, Research Associate, Centre for Environmental Policy

Every year, the Royal Society Pairing Scheme pairs 30 research scientists with UK parliamentarians and civil servants. The scheme supports scientists and policymakers to learn about each other’s work by spending time together, gaining insight into how research finds its way into policymaking. I had the privilege of joining this year’s virtual iteration and was paired with Lord Oates, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Energy and Climate.

It has been a remarkable year, in many ways. Strange, of course, due to the pandemic, but also the (mostly) positive messaging around climate change issues. Whilst the UK was the first major economy to pledge net zero by 2050, a large range of countries across the world followed this example in the last 12 months. With the latest possible addition of India, this would cover three quarters of global GDP under net-zero pledges. As an energy policy researcher this means that the window of opportunity for interactions with policymakers is wide open, and, after experiencing a virtual week in Westminster, I have learned that it is greatly appreciated on both sides. The UK is well placed to make net zero a reality, with a story of success on bringing down the carbon intensity of electricity and negative-subsidy offshore wind, but also has major challenges ahead on the decarbonisation of heating, transport and industry.

Malte Jansen
Malte is Research Associate at the Centre for Environmental Policy

My pairing with Lord Oates, has introduced me to the wider policymaking in Westminster. I took part, and continue to do so, in the cross-parliamentary conversations with other politicians, including the Peers for the Planet cross-parliamentary group. My conversation with Lord Oates is very open on a wider range of energy topics. We share a special interest in hydrogen for energy systems and how to decarbonise homes, two very big topics to address if we are to meet net-zero in 2050.

Throughout the virtual week in Westminster, I have met several high-profile policymakers from all parties, including the former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark. I have witnessed an encouragingly deep level of detail knowledge within politicians’ policy areas and a positive attitude towards outside input from scientists.

The interaction between policymakers and scientists can be facilitated by the mutual desire for communication and interest, and is in general, more successful on an early stage before the bill arrives in Parliament: the earlier, the better. I have a long-lasting impression of the ‘behind the curtain’ workings of the parliament.

I strongly encourage fellow scientists to apply to the programme, it is an excellent opportunity to meet policymakers. I fully anticipate that the conversation between Lord Oates and me will continue, and that together we can shape the policy agenda, just a little bit, to make net zero by 2050 a bit more likely.

Malte Jansen is Research Associate at Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, specialising in energy systems with high shares of renewables. He is an expert in renewable and conventional power plant technology, energy market design, econometric modelling and sustainable energy engineering and wind power forecasting.

Royal Society Pairing Scheme: The joint role of scientists and politicians to build a fairer society

By Dr Marta Varela, Research Fellow, National Heart & Lung Institute

I had the privilege of joining the virtual version of the Royal Society Pairing Scheme in March 2021. The scheme gives policymakers and research scientists an opportunity to experience each other’s worlds.

I was paired with Lord Patel, chair of the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, and it was an absolute pleasure to interact with him and his staff and to have a behind the scenes look at how the select committee operates.

I was very impressed with the amount and depth of scientific evidence the committee considers for each topic and with their interesting way of operating. Besides the evidence panels where they ask expert witnesses (usually scientists) for their views, I was surprised to see they have a more behind the scenes scientific advisor (yet another scientist!) to provide all round views on the topic and draw their attention to specific issues.

The scheme also involved discussions with a range of parliamentarians from all political colours interested in science. It was encouraging to realise how eager they were to listen to scientists’ views on a variety of topics, not all related to hard science. In one of the sessions, for example, we debated at length issues related to science funding and the training and career progression of scientists.

Marta Varela
Marta is Research Fellow at the National Heart & Lung Institute

I ended the week with a strong awareness of the complementary roles scientists and politicians play in bringing about a more prosperous and fair society for all. We make the scientific discoveries to enable societal progress; politicians shape the socio-economic conditions in which the discoveries take place and how they can benefit society. To fulfil our joint aim we need to keep communicating.

Dr Marta Varela is Research Fellow at Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute. Marta is mostly interested in understanding and improving the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias. For this, she uses MRI, artificial intelligence and digital twins of the heart.


Mental Health: the underestimated impacts and opportunities of the climate crisis

Written by Dr Emma Lawrance, Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

COVID-19 is affecting every aspect of our society and producing a parallel mental health pandemic that clinicians predict will be with us for years to come (references 1–4). Yet the pandemic is a mere foreshadowing of the impact scientists anticipate the climate crisis will have on our lives. While the climate crisis is increasingly recognised as a health emergency, its relationship with mental health has been relatively neglected, but is a vital piece of the climate puzzle (5–8).

The links between climate change and mental health are important for three key reasons. First, the climate and ecological crises are associated with a range of psychological responses and mental health impacts. Second, the climate crisis will increase mental health needs while potentially disrupting mental health systems, straining health systems and services. Third, the climate crisis is fundamentally a product of human behaviours and therefore an understanding of human psychological needs and responses is required in order to solve it. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of understanding behavioural change and in acting preemptively to build resilient healthcare systems, even in the face of uncertainty (9).

In the UK, increased temperatures, more frequent heatwaves, and disasters such as floods can increase frequency and severity of mental ill-health and endanger the lives particularly of those on some mental health medications (e.g. some antipsychotics) or at risk of suicide (10–15). Healthcare and emergency systems have been under-aware and ill-prepared to manage this. Even simply an awareness of the climate crisis and witnessing our planetary emergency can generate a range of strong psychological and emotional responses, including grief, fear, anxiety, anger, dread, and significant distress (16,17). These psychological responses interact with subsequent actions and behaviours and ‘deeply colour visions of a desirable future’ (18), as we are witnessing with COVID-19, and can impact mental health and wellbeing, often in ways that exacerbate existing inequalities (19).

In particular, young people are only too aware that they are inheriting a slow-motion catastrophe, with enormous consequences for their mental health (20). Prince William, speaking about the climate crisis, said: “I also worry from a mental health point of view, the anxiety and the worry that many of these younger generations are going to have. Hearing about what we’re talking about, it’s going to weigh on them” (21). This comment echoes reports by mental health charities, psychiatric associations, parents, teachers and young people themselves, of rising distress associated with awareness of these crises. We need to work with young people as co-researchers to understand these experiences of distress and the mental health impacts, while co-designing appropriate psychological support that can build resilience and generate action.

In September 2020, the UK Climate Assembly (a representative sample of the UK population) published their report on how the UK should achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. One of the key recommendations of this report was the need for education and information on climate change for everyone in the UK (22). Curricula and awareness-raising campaigns should consider the potential psychological and emotional responses they may engender, and ensure appropriate resources are provided to enable people to have healthy responses to these thoughts and feelings and build mental resilience, with the opportunity to facilitate individual behaviour change.

Accounting for positive and negative mental health impacts associated with both current practices and climate action

The mental health impacts and outcomes of climate change and climate action are not currently accounted for. This is a huge oversight. But also an opportunity to leverage multiple benefits from actions that reduce carbon emissions, and to align policy agendas across mental health and wellbeing, and climate action. 

The consequences  of unmitigated climate change are and will produce worsening rates of population mental ill-health. Further, there may be co-risks or common causes associated with current practices that are both contributing to the climate and ecological crises and worsening mental health, such as overconsumption and a disconnection of people from the natural world. Air pollution, nature deprivation, low nutrient food systems, poorly insulated homes, ecological breakdown and sedentary commutes are connected with the climate crisis, but also known to impact mental health.

There are co-benefits of action, as highlighted in the Climate Assembly report, which can create public buy-in around policies that reduce carbon emissions while improving air quality and green space, for example (23). A co-benefits narrative needs to emerge that emphasises the benefits that climate action can bring to improving our mental health and wellbeing

Policy recommendations

  1. Support research to develop and track the evidence base for psychological responses to the climate crisis, the impact on mental health and wellbeing, and the interactions with behaviour, particularly for vulnerable groups. Such evidence will inform future policy narratives, education initiatives and campaigns to generate individual and collective behaviour change.
  2. Support convening of an international network across sectors and disciplines to accelerate the emerging field of climate change and mental health.
  3. Learn from current global best practices – support collation and evaluation of both formal and informal interventions arising to meet the growing needs. Embed evidence-based recommendations into mental health systems to build resilience, and scale-up evidence-based interventions to meet emerging psychological needs of vulnerable individuals and communities.
  4. Account for the mental health related positive and negative externalities associated with the climate crisis and climate action, while leveraging the co-benefits to support further action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Relevant work at Imperial

Imperial’s Grantham Institute and Institute of Global Health Innovation are producing a Briefing Paper summarising the current evidence on the Impacts of Climate Change on Mental Health and providing policy recommendations.

The Climate Cares programme is a research, policy, education and design program to understand and respond to the mental health needs of the climate crisis. Their first study, Changing Worlds, is examining psychological responses to COVID-19 and the climate crisis in UK 16-24 year olds, with parallel studies to be run in the Philippines and India. This study also explores the interaction of the range of psychological and emotional responses with mental health, and young people’s agency to shape the world they wish to see. Helix Centre designers are developing highly scalable low-cost interventions to support young people in building mental resilience in response to these crises, working with a diverse group of UK youth.



  1. Diseases, T. L. I. The intersection of COVID-19 and mental health. Lancet Infect. Dis. 0, (2020).
  2. Lally, C. Child and adolescent mental health during COVID-19. (2020).
  3. Cullen, W., Gulati, G. & Kelly, B. D. Mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic. QJM Int. J. Med. 113, 311–312 (2020).
  4. Pierce, M. et al. Mental health before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal probability sample survey of the UK population. Lancet Psychiatry 0, (2020).
  5. Berry, H. L., Bowen, K. & Kjellstrom, T. Climate change and mental health: a causal pathways framework. Int. J. Public Health 55, 123–132 (2010).
  6. Berry, H. L., Waite, T. D., Dear, K. B. G., Capon, A. G. & Murray, V. The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 282–290 (2018).
  7. Dodgen, D. et al. Ch. 8: Mental Health and Well-Being. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. (2016) doi:10.7930/J0TX3C9H.
  8. Hayes, K., Blashki, G., Wiseman, J., Burke, S. & Reifels, L. Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions. Int. J. Ment. Health Syst. 12, 28 (2018).
  9. How will coronavirus shape our response to climate change? | Imperial News | Imperial College London. Imperial News
  10. Mason, V., Andrews, H. & Upton, D. The psychological impact of exposure to floods. Psychol. Health Med. 15, 61–73 (2010).
  11. Burke, M. et al. Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 723–729 (2018).
  12. Page, L. A., Hajat, S. & Kovats, R. S. Relationship between daily suicide counts and temperature in England and Wales. Br. J. Psychiatry 191, 106–112 (2007).
  13. Obradovich, N., Migliorini, R., Paulus, M. P. & Rahwan, I. Empirical evidence of mental health risks posed by climate change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 115, 10953–10958 (2018).
  14. Lee, S., Lee, H., Myung, W., Kim, E. J. & Kim, H. Mental disease-related emergency admissions attributable to hot temperatures. Sci. Total Environ. 616–617, 688–694 (2018).
  15. Thompson, R., Hornigold, R., Page, L. & Waite, T. Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review. Public Health 161, 171–191 (2018).
  16. Cunsolo, A. et al. Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change? Lancet Planet. Health 4, e261–e263 (2020).
  17. Cunsolo, A. & Ellis, N. Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief. The Conversation
  18. Moser, S. Navigating the political and emotional terrain of adaptation: Community engagement when climate change comes home. Success. Adapt. Link. Sci. Pract. Manag. Clim. Change Impacts 289–305 (2013).
  19. Ingle, H. E. & Mikulewicz, M. Mental health and climate change: tackling invisible injustice. Lancet Planet. Health 4, e128–e130 (2020).
  20. Wu, J., Snell, G. & Samji, H. Climate anxiety in young people: a call to action. Lancet Planet. Health 4, e435–e436 (2020).
  21. Earthshot prize: Prince William launches £50m drive to repair planet. the Guardian (2020).
  22. UK, C. A. The path to net zero. Climate Assembly UK
  23. 23.   Mapping the co-benefits of climate change action to issues of public concern in the UK: a narrative review – The Lancet Planetary Health.


Presenting research to an All-Party Parliamentary Group

Written by Dr Natalie Shenker, Research Associate in the Department of Surgery & Cancer

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are intended as a vehicle to bring together cross-party MPs and peers from the House of Lords who are interested in a particular area of policy. They also create communities of specialists, special interest groups, and interested members of the public, who can work together and individually to highlight new insights, research and innovations.

There are several APPGs that currently operate in fields related to my research as a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow aiming to understand the public health impacts of human milk bank services. I am an active contributor to the APPG on Infant Feeding Inequalities, and attend APPGs on the First 1001 Days, Premature and Sick Babies and the Microbiome. Being part of an APPG means that you can attend meetings, ask questions and request to submit evidence. Most of the APPGs are free to join, but some have a secretariat that requires funding and will charge members to join (an interesting ethical debate can be had around this practice). Submitting evidence can be as simple as sending a relevant paper to the committee or asking to present a talk on your work.

Natalie and Boris
Dr Shenker with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, taken at the 2020 St David’s Day reception at 10 Downing Street

Presenting at an APPG can be slightly intimidating – the committee proceedings pre-COVID-19 take place in committee rooms in the House of Parliament or at Portcullis House. Security is tight to get in and the queues can be long. On my first attendance, there had been a last minute change of venue (this is common, so make sure you watch out for late emails); all of us including MPs and peers ended up running together down an underground corridor to get to the new room on time. The rooms are usually set up so that the committee are seated in a semi-circle with tables facing them, a little like a Select Committee, and there are chairs at the back for the audience. It took me a couple of meetings to realise that anyone could sit on the central tables, and that actually things are a lot less formal than they appear at first sight. The parliamentarians are genuinely interested in the insights of experts and people with lived experience of the issues they are tackling, and to an academic APPGs offer an accessible insight into the machinations that lead to policy advances.

Post-COVID-19, meetings are held online. My work on the commercialisation of human milk banking was due to be presented in April and was delayed until APPGs started taking place again, this time online. Attendance more than doubled, to over 90 individuals and organisations, and the last First 1001 days APPG had over 400 attendees. There have been recognisable impacts already of my presentations, and excellent opportunities to make contacts with collaborators and parliamentarians. Some of my work was recently quoted in a Commons debate, and the Chair of the APPG sent me a copy of Hansard for that day which was inspiring to keep emphasising the results of my research to support policy development. Going online may make APPGs much more accessible to people across the UK as well as parliamentarians who can access remotely while elsewhere from Westminster and can only be a good thing for information dissemination and policy advance.

List of active APPGs.

Building a climate-resilient post-COVID society

Written by Dr Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research and Lecturer in Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial’s Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment

With more than a million lives lost so far and no clear exit in sight, the COVID-19 pandemic challenges governments all around the world to their fullest. Besides the public health crisis, the measures necessary to contain the virus have resulted in a global recession that brings additional hardship and suffering. Without any doubt, the events over the past year clearly laid bare our society’s vulnerability to external shocks that governments have insufficiently anticipated and prepared for.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only challenge societies face today. A slower, yet more pervasive and harder to mitigate threat is our economies’ on-going contribution to climate change. Because both challenges are inherently linked to how we operate our economies, it makes sense to look for solutions that address both.

As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown measures, economic activities have slowed down markedly. There are periods with fewer cars on the road, fewer flights, and the slower economy results in less energy and goods being shipped around. Because these activities normally produce greenhouse gases, their slow-down also caused a measurable dip in global greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. Locked down cities were suddenly quiet, and with clean skies.

COVID closed sign

However, these reductions are only temporary. As soon as lockdown measures are lifted, people will be using the same cars and the same power plants to provide their electricity. In a recent study, we show that if we simply revert back to old ways of doing things, the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on climate change would not even be measurable in the real world. A structural change of our economies is needed, and the COVID-19 crisis here presents an opportunity for governments.

Following the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are now stepping in with measures to safeguard their public health systems and to put economies back on the rails. The amounts are staggering, with more than USD12 trillion in COVID-19 recovery stimulus announced – about 15% of the combined global gross domestic product (GDP). Reshaping our economies to tackle climate change is often perceived to be extremely expensive, but comparing the investments needed for a green, climate-positive recovery with the announced COVID-19 stimulus we show a quite contrasting picture.

We show that COVID-19 recovery funds dwarf the green energy investment needs for setting the world on track to achieve even the most ambitious 1.5°C limit of the UN Paris Agreement. Over the next five years, the additional green energy investments needed to move the global economy from its current polluting track onto a Paris-compatible path amount to only 12% of the total pledged COVID-19 recovery funding. Combined with divestments from fossil fuels, the net amount becomes of the order of 1% of total COVID-19 recovery funding.

Climate-positive recovery measures bring many things governments are interested in after a crisis: they boost high-quality jobs, can be scaled rapidly, and make a country’s economy more resilient to future shocks. Keeping the bigger picture and a longer-term perspective is thus essential to avoid that our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic leads our society in the next economic dead end street.

Misinformation and social media in the US election: comparing 2016 and 2020

Written by Dr Julio Amador Diaz Lopez, Research Fellow at Imperial College Business School

Part of the narrative used to explain the Trump presidency has been foreign misinformation in the 2016 election. A lot of research — investigative such as the Mueller report as well as academic such as ours at Imperial — has been centred around foreign influence operations. The FBI has concluded that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) conducted active measures to influence public opinion well before the election but constantly in the days leading to Election Day. These measures included well-coordinated efforts to imitate Americans and passing forward information to polarise the public, the objective being to de-incentivise the public from engaging in healthy democratic practices ranging from maintaining civil discussions to voting. In fact, our own research has shown these measures included pushing disinformation related to the latter. In particular, we identified these agents tried to cast doubt about the number of people voting, suggesting a lot of people that were not allowed to vote, were doing so. This may sound familiar.

Voting rights — who can vote, requirements to cast a vote, and, now, in the times of coronavirus, which absentee ballots will be valid — have been on the mainstream political debate ever since the Bush administration. The rationale — or at least a blunt assessment of it — being: minorities in the US have increasingly become a political force. Hence, making it harder for them to vote will benefit the Republicans as these groups often associate with Democrats. Or, if we follow the GOP’s rationale: Democrats are recruiting people that are not allowed to vote to cast ballots for them.

In our 2016 data, we found that many social media posts pushed forward by the IRA indeed used this narrative. However, as this information was being posted by foreigners (remember, the IRA was pushing forward some of these messages), we were able to exploit misspellings and semantics to identify which message came from a foreign influence campaign and which came from within the US. (Remember, regardless of your point of view, it is not illegal to post these messages. It is harmful, however, if a foreigner wants to influence US domestic politics).

Different from the 2016 election, this time most of the misinformation related to voting rights (from slanted opinions to outright lies) is being pushed by the president of the United States. As such, much of the disinformation being discussed in the US is now created and propagated from actors within the US. Therefore, we cannot effectively follow the same strategy to identify misinformation. Most important, within the context of free speech in the United States, this misinformation — the one created and pushed by American citizens — is allowed and, some argue, even in the public interest (not because of the content itself, but —the argument goes — because citizens would be able to identify who is engaging in bad behaviour and be able to electorally punish them). Hence, attention from policymakers has shifted from identifying and banning misinformation to contextualising it; for example, Twitter has opted not for tracking and erasing all posts but putting them behind a warning and precluded its diffusion.

This seems a very reasonable, promising approach. As of now, our understanding of misinformation — from providing a unified definition to characterising it — is limited; even more so our ability to catch all pieces of misinformation in the web. Therefore, identifying prominent influencers capable of affecting political discourse and concentrating efforts in contextualising every time they push blatant lies may be reasonable. But this opens another can of worms: do we want social media firms doing this? Do we want governments to do so?

Top 5 tips for engaging with policymakers as a research scientist

Dr Kam Pou Ha (@kampouha) recently obtained her PhD in Infectious Disease (Bacteriology) from Imperial College London, working on host-pathogen interactions and antimicrobial resistance in Staphylococcus aureus. She continues to work at the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection (CMBI) at Imperial, but this time on interactions between human neutrophils and Shigella species.

As researchers, policy isn’t something we think about often, or at all. Our work can seem very distant from the lives of those in Westminster. But, as we’ve seen in recent months, scientific research can and does have significant public policy impact. It’s just hard to know where to start. For me, attending the policy training run by the Institute for Government and The Forum was a great way to find out how. Here are my top 5 tips from these sessions:

  1. Keep up to date with current events and government priorities

Most of us are probably already keeping up to date with the news. Sometimes, what is in the news can directly relate to our work. But unless we know what is happening, it’s hard to know when we could be involved.

So the first step is to keep on top of current events and government priorities. Particularly science-related ones.

If you have Twitter (as I’m sure many of you do), then this can be as simple as following the relevant Twitter accounts from government and Parliament. Here are a few to get you started:

The Forum also tweets about relevant research and policy news and opportunities (@imperial_forum) and sends a regular policy bulletin to Imperial researchers via email.

  1. Target your engagement

What really stood out to me during the workshop is that to an outsider, the government is very large and complex. There are a multitude of departments and sub-departments, not to mention all the non-departmental public bodies.

It’s good to know which of these are most relevant to your research, so you can be heard by the right people and contribute more meaningfully.

Many government departments have a webpage where they list their Areas of Research Interest. The subjects listed are often current issues, or those that may become of interest/relevance to the public in the future. See also The Forum’s briefing on Areas of Research Interest.

Secondments to government departments are available for early-career researchers or PhD students, via the Cabinet Office Innovation Team. In addition, The Academy of Medical Sciences runs 3-month funded internship schemes where PhD students can learn more about how science policy is developed. POST also host many different fellowships.

Targeting your engagement also applies to any scientific societies you may be a part of. These societies often include routes to engage in science policy on their website or in their regular newsletters, and on occasion, may reach out to their members for input into government consultations.

Finally, consider if any think tanks and charities are working on similar issues to you and reach out to them.

  1. Build your profile

One thing that was highlighted during the workshop was the importance of a public profile.

If you’re hard to find and follow, then it’s less likely that others (including policymakers) are going to have the chance to engage with you.

So, update your LinkedIn and institutional profiles! Make sure you are searchable via keywords and tags. If you use Twitter, try to provide useful, interesting and re-tweetable content to your followers.

Some of us already have a very active social-media profile, in which case – well done! However, the rest of us probably have some work to do…

  1. Avoid jargon

Policymakers often do not have a scientific background. This is important to remember.

As a result, describing our work in a simple, jargon-free way is the best way forward. If the term is at all science-related, it may be helpful to provide a short definition that a layperson could understand.

One of our activities was to provide a 2-min summary of our work to someone from a non-scientific background. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of whether they intend to engage in policy or not. We are so used to talking about our work to other scientists that we often end up using technical terms that others may find hard to understand.

Find a friend or family member who knows nothing about science and give it a try. It’s harder than you think!

  1. Stick to the point

When an academic asks a question, we’re often interested in other aspects of the research, or where research in the field may lead. This can lead to a long answer that strays from the original question.

With policymakers, it would be better to just answer the question. Ideally, a short answer without jargon (see above). Their work is generally on a shorter timeframe than what we’re used to in academia, and extraneous details take up time.

So yes, they may be interested in other aspects too, but will ask for that if needed. This is particularly the case if the answer is part of a consultation.

In short: stick to the point, no deviating!

Forum folder

Hopefully with these tips, you’ll be zooming ahead at communicating with policymakers in no time. If you’d like to find out more about policy engagement, The Forum provides helpful resources and holds regular seminars for researchers interested in policy engagement, as well as providing bespoke 1-1 support.

Good luck on your policy journey!

How to engage with select committees effectively

This blog post is intended to compliment our resources document, Engaging with Parliamentary Select Committees.

In this blog post, we will look at:

  • What select committees are and do
  • What your written evidence submission should look like
  • How The Forum can help

What are select committees?

Select committees are the engine room of parliamentary scrutiny. They are formal bodies but their power and influence is often more informal. They choose their own programme and are cross party.

Select Committees in the House of Commons are charged with overseeing the work of a government department, examining the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments.

Lords Select Committees do not shadow the work of government departments. They consider specialist subjects, taking advantage of the Lords’ expertise and the greater amount of time (compared to MPs) to examine issues. They also invite written submissions.

Select committees will generally be considered effective when they influence debate and change government policy.

A few examples of select committees that may be particularly relevant to Imperial researchers are:

Select committees scrutinise government through inquiries on selected topics. They will set the terms of reference for each inquiry and then invite written submissions from interested parties.

What should written evidence submissions look like?

  • Introduce yourself at the start – what is your background and expertise? What can you contribute to the debate? For example, why your research is particularly relevant and helpful.
  • Formatting is important! Number your paragraphs and use spacing, separating out sections using titles. Put the date at the top.
  • Emphasise your key asks – what do you want to happen? Avoid just stating all the problems – what are the solutions? Think creatively about recommendations – it shouldn’t always be asking for more money.
  • Address the questions the committee is asking. You can quote from other sources, but please cite them.
  • Perhaps the most important one: keep the evidence short, simple, to the point and free of jargon. Staff and parliamentarians looking at the written evidence will be pressed for time.
  • Frame the submission in the public interest. Opinion is useful, but only up to a point – what they really want to see is analysis.
  • The committee will likely reject anything defamatory or items published elsewhere. Do not publish it until they have accepted it as evidence (they will email you to let you know this).
  • Follow the guidance from the Parliament website.

What next?

With any submission, preparation is key, and The Forum is here to help:

  • Come along to one of The Forum’s Policy engagement seminars.
  • Consult our new Upcoming consultations and APPG meetings page on The Forum website, where you can find open consultations you could contribute to.
  • Read Imperial’s submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into Life Sciences and the Industrial Strategy.
  • If you are submitting evidence, research the members of the committee and read some of their reports.
  • Contact The Forum team to get bespoke support with your draft submission and particularly if you are invited to give oral evidence. We’d be delighted to meet 1-1.

A final thought

Select committees rely entirely on evidence and without it, they can do very little. Therefore, it is in their interest to hear from you – they want the best possible evidence on an issue so they can scrutinise policy effectively.