How researchers can connect with European policy makers

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Claire Doffegnies

Given the constant discussion about Brexit at the moment, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the EU Parliament continues to legislate on issues that affect the lives of citizens across Europe, from Agriculture to Transport, writes Claire Doffegnies. How can cutting-edge research that’s relevant to these issues reach MEPs and European policymakers? 

The societal challenges that policy makers deal with are complex, and they need to rely on reliable and accessible knowledge. At the same time, demonstrating the societal impact of research is high on the agenda of universities, funders and researchers and will be higher in years to come. 

Despite its importance, knowing how to solve what is sometimes described ‘the research-policy gap’ isn’t simple. Policy making is messy, and there’s a number of ways that evidence can enter the European Parliament. To help shed light, we share some tips below on some key things to think about. These are taken from a new guide: ‘Getting your research into the European Parliament’, produced by Taylor & Francis and Sense about Science. 

How to get research into the European Parliament 

  1. Find the movers and the shakers. If you want to influence policy, you have to invest in finding out who is taking the policy decisions. Policy engagement is a long-term process, not a one-time activity. Sign up for public consultations and newsletters from the EU institutions, your national Academy or scientific society and relevant NGOs. Follow policy makers and MEPs on twitter, go to events.

  2. Find your MEP. Someone is representing you in the EU. A lot of MEPs are very keen to hear from constituents so find out who your representative is, or contact an MEP who you have affinity with and build a relationship.

  3. Find out where your topic is in the policy cycle. The ‘legislative train is a useful tool to help you do this. Is the European Commission writing a proposal on this theme? Then you could respond to the public consultation. Is your topic not on the policy agenda yet? An MEP can ask a parliamentary question.

  4. ‘So what?’ Put yourself in the mind of a policy maker. Why should they care? What is the policy problem that your research can help them to solve? Don’t tell policy makers what you want, ask them what they need.

  5. Don’t expect policy makers to understand your research. Try instead to understand the policy making process, so that you can tailor your research for the policy context. It may take some effort, but policy is easier to understand for you than your research may be for politicians.

Check out the full guide for more tips and information on the different routes in. 

The bigger picture of research in policy making 

There’s already excellent work being done in and around Europe to help the cause too. In the UK, there’s the Knowledge Exchange Unit at the UK Parliament which supports the exchange of information and expertise between researchers and Parliament. 

At the start of the year they set up a twitter account (@UKParl_Research) to make it easier for academics to engage with parliament, share opportunities, and reach a wider pool of researchers. Gaining over 2000 followers in just 2 days goes to show the appetite for this kind of support and information. 

It’s not just researchers and policy makers that care though. In an age of ‘fake news’ and what, to me, sometimes feels like information overload, we all need to question what we know and trust. The international campaigning charity ‘Sense about Science’ are leading a public campaign around this: ‘Ask for Evidence’. This empowers citizens to request evidence for themselves – whether that’s behind a policy, news story or marketing claim that a company makes. It is research (and researchers) that can often provide that evidence - not just to politicians but to journalists, companies, commentators – for anyone wanting to distinguish between truth, lies and fake-news.

Claire Doffegnies is a Communications Executive at Taylor & Francis. Her current role involves working on T&F’s Author Services programme, guiding authors through the process of publishing in a journal and increasing their impact beyond.