How to influence policymakers - ESRC

Contents

Presenting your case

Policymakers rely on good research to inform their work, but they are bombarded with information from a variety of sources. To ensure they take notice of your research, you need to present it to them in a form that is accessible and useful.

Think about the range of communication tools at your disposal and the preferred channels of communication for your target audience of policymakers.

Target your communications

Always target a specific group, for example, the MPs on a particular committee or all-party group. If your public affairs strategy is unfocused, this will reflect badly on you and may suggest that your evidence may be unfocused too.

Do not just do what everyone else is doing, particularly if time and money are tight. For example, exhibiting at party conferences is very expensive and you will be a small fish in a very large pond.

Think about other original ways to reach your audience, such as organising a small, high quality seminar at a quieter time in the political calendar.

Use clear, relevant messages

You should:

  • be clear about your messages and make sure they are compelling for policymakers in your target group. A civil servant working on detailed legislation has different needs from someone generating new ideas in a policy unit
  • avoid presenting your findings in too academic a style – keep your initial communications succinct and to the point. You can always follow up with more detail if it is requested
  • be direct – if you are asking policymakers to do something specific, such as to chair an event or meet with you, ask directly
  • prepare for face-to-face communication with policymakers by having a bullet point briefing ready and make sure you leave some high-impact, succinct material behind after the meeting
  • 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
  • follow up face-to-face contact with a short email of thanks reinforcing the main points from the meeting and creating the opportunity for future contact.

Build and maintain contacts

To build relationships you should:

  • be proactive and always look for new opportunities
  • avoid being complacent or overestimating your own contacts and influence. New policymakers emerge all the time and you need to keep up to date with developments
  • think about regular opportunities to stay in touch with your target policymakers throughout your project. Include more formal activities, such as sharing publications, and less formal ones such as sending out Christmas cards
  • always be helpful if approached by a policymaker – they will appreciate and remember it as they are usually working under pressure
  • remember that the media is an important and influential channel to reach policymakers – read our guidance on how to do media relations.

Bear in mind potential stumbling points. These include:

  • policymakers working under tight deadlines and high workloads. Although one subject might be of interest this month it might not be relevant a few months down the line. Keep in touch and monitoring their interest can be the key to giving timely and relevant research briefings
  • finding the right initial contact can often be difficult. This can be because people move around departments or details not being publicly available. Speak with colleagues at your organisation who might have contacts they can share with you
  • getting the attention of your target policymakers, as they will be contacted by lots of individuals, pressure groups and think tanks
  • finding the right person to talk to on the phone can be difficult, with so many civil servants, MPs and peers, but this can be an effective method for getting the messages of your research across.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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