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The worlds of academia and policymaking are becoming increasingly intertwined, as democratically elected political representatives seek evidence-based solutions to complex problems. The increased connection between the two worlds provides new opportunities for academics to use their research to inform both standards and outcomes across our political system. The main issue is that rarely has anyone outlined a clear and concise manual of the how-to and do’s and don’ts of engaging with legislators and their advisors, leaving academics uncertain about the process. One of our main goals as the incoming Executive Committee of the Political Studies Association’s Early Career Network was to demystify the policymaking process and provide our members with some of the tools required to influence the standards and laws of our political institutions. To this end, we organised an event – at the British Parliament – which sought to bring together people involved in policy and early career academics (i.e. postgraduates and academics within three years of their viva).

The discussion panel included Lord Lingfield, Rosa Hodgkin (Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government), Dani Payne (Senior Researcher at Social Market Foundation), and Chloe Westley (Former Senior Advisor to Boris Johnson). All panellists have spent considerable time in academia (two have PhDs and one is completing a Masters), and are therefore well placed to advise early career researchers on bridging the gap between academia and policymaking. We are grateful to the panellists for sharing their time and expertise – with special thanks to Lord Lingfield for organising the venue. This blog aims to share the panellists’ valuable advice with a wider audience, in order to demystify the policymaking process and the potential role of academics in providing evidence-based solutions.

Five Steps to Impact in Policymaking

  1. Build connections and be resilient

Our panellists highlighted the significance of building ties between academia and policymaking, encouraging early-career academics to be bold and contact key stakeholders in their field of study and offer their expertise on current projects related to their research. For the panellists, this was one of the hardest, but most important steps to take, as without contact, policymakers will not be aware of the knowledge you can bring to the process. It is important to remember that policymakers like to present their legislative proposals as evidence-based. However, they may not be interested, so it takes a level of resilience to overcome the dreaded rejection letter or email. The panellists encouraged academics not to be discouraged and advised them to keep contacting as many relevant policymakers as possible.  Experience has shown that of the many people you contact, at least a handful will be interested and grateful for your support, providing an inroad into the policymaking process but this takes time!

  1. Be aware of policy trends and be persuasive

Knowledge is power, particularly when it comes to gaining the attention of and engaging with policymakers in Westminster. Our panellists advised early-career academics to be aware of what politicians and their advisors are focused on (i.e. what are the core issues of the day). Knowing that the stakeholder you are contacting is focused on an area in which you have extensive knowledge will not only provide you with the confidence to contact them but will also add important context to the email you send. Remember that you are also contacting politicians who, for better or for worse, like engagement that improves their own, their party’s and maybe even their government’s performance. If your research is relevant to their aims and objectives, they are more likely to be interested in your work. Remain objective in your findings and emphasise the benefits of the research in improving the standards and outcomes of the policy in question.

  1. Be clear and concise

It was stressed that when contacting and explaining research to policymakers, early-career academics should articulate their work in a manner that is accessible and easily understood by a non-expert in the field. Too often, some academics think that if they use complex terminology and arguments they will be noticed by key stakeholders in Westminster. This is a myth and one that could undermine your success in getting your ideas heard. Remember that even if you are an expert in the field, the person receiving the email is unlikely to be, so it is essential that you simplify your arguments and findings for them. Policymakers and their advisors are also busy people, often managing multiple policies and portfolios. Part of making research accessible is distilling your core arguments into a clear and concise format. They do not have time to read a PhD thesis or even an article. If early-career academics want to influence policymakers, they need to be pragmatic in their approach.

  1. Don’t be too partisan and choose your platform carefully

Many early-career political scientists will be members of political parties or involved in some form of frontline politics, but this should not influence their engagement with policymakers. The panellists advised our members not to become too partisan in their work, i.e. to ‘depoliticise’ it as far as possible. This will allow them to cast their net as wide as possible and engage with politicians of all ideological stripes, giving them and their research the best chance of being heard by all political persuasions. The panellists suggested that our members build a firewall between their (subjective) political views and their (objective) academic work.

In the context of partisan considerations, our panellists warned our audience to be careful about the arena in which they present and discuss their research. In particular, they warned our members to be cautious about their social media engagement and responding to criticisms online, which can quickly spiral and cast a negative light on one’s research. It was also pointed out, that while academics communicate their research through journals, many policymakers do not have access to these repositories. It was advised that early-career academics supplement their journal publications with online blogs, which will allow a much broader section of society – including policymakers – to engage with their work.

  1. Standing on the shoulders of giants

We all have to start somewhere and we don’t always know everything about what we are doing, so our members were encouraged to reach out to those who have already forged a path between academia and policymaking, i.e. academics who have given evidence to select committees, worked with policymakers, etc. The knowledge and expertise of academics who have moved into policymaking or who have engaged with the process as scholars will be extremely useful in helping you to avoid rookie mistakes in the early stages of engagement. Be brave and reach out!


These five steps provide a concise roadmap for early-career academics to engage effectively with the policymaking process. Central to these steps is the need to have the confidence and tools to engage meaningfully with policy stakeholders, thereby increasing the impact of your research and the evidence-based credentials of legislative proposals and outcomes. It’s our hope that this approach will inspire proactive engagement with policymakers among early-career researchers, ultimately bridging the gap between academia and policymaking to address pressing societal challenges.


A version of this piece appears in Political Insight.

This article reflects the views of the author and not the position of the DPIR or the University of Oxford.



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