Members of Parliament need social science research to give their work a solid basis

April 27, 2015

Caroline Lucas

Members of Parliament need social science research to give their work a solid basis, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told a Campaign event.

Ms Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, was speaking at a roadshow at the University of Brighton run to present the Campaign’s Business of People report and its work more generally.

Ms Lucas told an audience of 60 people that MPs often received anecdotal evidence about issues from their constituents. But what they also needed was firm evidence from good sources.

“MPs absolutely rely on the evidence in reports as we – unlike government ministers – are unable to commission research,” she said. “If you know there is solid social science evidence behind them, then you are more secure putting these ideas forward.”

She said that MPs wanted clear bullet-point summaries about research, with hyperlinks to further information. They would benefit from knowing which key social science researchers they could phone for information.

She noted a change in the way that evidence was being used in Parliament. Select committees were increasing their influence and power but the research they drew upon was of variable quality, possibly because civil servants were generalists. She suggested that social scientists in higher education should try to meet committee members early in the committee process to inform this.

“Money spent on evidence gathering for policymaking is money well spent,” she said, raising the issue of untested policies, such as the academies and free schools, and the involvement of the free market in the NHS.

Ms Lucas said the Business of People report “makes a very strong case for the value of social science which needs to be reflected in the spending review after the election.” She said she found it “heartening to see social scientists speaking up so loudly through the report.”

Professor Bruce Brown, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Brighton, spoke about the importance of innovation rather than incremental research in dealing with important challenges. The creation of a College of Social Sciences at Brighton was intended to foster work across disciplines as part of this.

Dr Dinah Rajak, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology Development at the University of Sussex, which also organised the event, called for a removal of the focus on short-term impact when assessing the worth of research, in favour of more focused research which could make a difference.

The event was chaired by Professor David Taylor, Dean of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Brighton. Professor James Wilsdon, Chair of the Campaign for Social Science, also spoke at the event, which is part of a series of roadshows being held in the UK.

• Technically, Ms Lucas is the Parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion, rather than its MP, now that the general election has been called.

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