Seminar on Political Influencing

18 October 2012

Richard Bartholomew

Social scientists have more ability to influence Select Committees than they might think, but may not be taking full advantage of the opportunities presented.

This was one of a number of points to come out of the Art of Political Influencing seminar in London on 18 October, run by the Campaign.

Rachel Maze, the Policy Analyst for the Lords Science and Technology Committee, told the seminar that she didn’t agree that Select Committees gave STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects more attention than others.

“I think you would be surprised at how many committees do look at relevant [social science] issues,” she said. As an example, she said that her Committee had looked at behavioural change “and we looked at all the research priorities, we didn’t just look at STEM subjects.”

But she agreed that it was “challenging” to pinpoint which committees were tackling which topics, and to ensure that social science voices were heard.

William Solesbury, the Policy Advisor for the Academy of Social Sciences, told the audience that social scientists had scope to respond to Select Committees more often than at present.

He had been asked to look at how often social scientists were taking the opportunity to give submissions to Committees. “I chose four or five recent Committee inquiries where you would imagine there would be a social science interest and looked at the final report where they list submissions, and it [the response from social scientists] was very thin.”

Ms Maze and Mr Solesbury were among five speakers at the event, held at the British Academy of Management, with an audience from learned societies and publishers.

They explained the system of Commons and Lords Select Committees, giving details of how social scientists can influence their work and conclusions. They described how committees announced a topic and called for submissions before hearing witnesses, making visits, discussing the topic and publishing a report. The Government would then respond to the report, and the committee would publish a response to this.

Select Committees could be influential, particularly because they debated issues publicly, and the Government often responded to this by modifying legislation.

Rachel recommended that social scientists scan the inquiry pages on parliamentary websites and sign up for alerts to let them know when inquiries are planned:

She said that social scientists could contact Committees to suggest a topic for an inquiry, either by writing a letter or speaking to its clerks and analysts. They could write a submission to an inquiry, which should be short and relevant, and if invited to speak could give evidence to the Committee.

Richard Bartholomew, Chief Research Officer at the Department for Education, spoke about consultations set up by the Government. These were more about shaping policy implementation than challenging fundamental policy ideas that had already been decided upon, he said.

Nevertheless, they could have a practical impact. The best replies were clear and answered at least some of the questions posed, with references to further information.

Dr Steven Toole, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the Royal Geographical Society, emphasised the importance of building up relationships, a theme developed by Andrew Garratt, Press and Public Affairs Manager for the Royal Statistical Society.

• The Campaign for Social Science publishes a Policy Monitor list of consultations that social scientists might wish to respond to.