Getting your research into Westminster: Parliamentary Select Committees

by Rob Coleman

There has never been a more important time for social science research than right now, when independent, robust evidence is needed to help tackle the big questions facing society. However, in today’s fast paced political climate just how can social scientists influence parliamentarians (and create policy impact) when their time and attention is in high demand?

ESRC has created a mechanism to bring research evidence into the heart of Westminster through our work with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Science and Policy, and our sponsorship of the Social Market Foundation’s popular seminar series: ‘Ask the Expert’. These events provide researchers with a platform to present evidence to a Westminster audience, but are there any frequent or more easily accessible ways to influence government that researchers can employ?

Finding an advocate who shares your passion can be daunting – particularly if you’re just starting out as an early career researcher or this is your first attempt to engage with government. However, whatever your area of expertise it is likely there already is at least one very influential audience in Parliament that has a vested interest in your subject and wants to hear from you. Interacting to them is simply a matter of timing.

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What are select committees, and why engage with them?

Select committees exist across the joint Houses of Parliament and were established to scrutinise and report on all aspects of our national political portfolio. Made up of small groups of about 10-15 MPs or Peers, there are 119 of these highly influential groups assembled.

Their endeavours rely on being able to successfully capture written and oral evidence through public enquiries. Typically, Commons’ Committees tend to focus on the work of Government departments, whilst Lords’ Committees investigate matters of specific social and economic interest.

Together these official Parliamentary bodies communicate with thousands of academics, industry leaders, government officials and service users each year. Here at ESRC we are proud that on a numerous occasions, our researchers have contributed directly to select committee reports and helped shape policy and recommendations to Government.

Keeping abreast of what happens at relevant select committees and communicating with them through an inquiry is a proven way to generate real policy impact as well as promote yourself, your institution and your area of study.  Government is obliged by convention to respond to select committee reports, meaning your research could be seen by policymakers at the highest level and even affect real change.

To assist individuals or organisations who want to submit evidence to an inquiry, Parliament has published two useful guides (for the Commons and Lords) which offer detailed advice on how to formulate and submit evidence.

How to make a submission

In the majority of cases, submissions are made in writing via an online form on the committee’s website. They must be formatted in Word document (strictly no PDFs), be less than 25MB in size and contain as few logos or pictures as possible.

They should also:

  • clearly state the author, including a brief introduction of yourself and your academic organisation/ESRC centre
  • explain your motive for responding to the inquiry
  • be concise – maximum 3,000 words (or as otherwise stated by the committee) and contain numbered paragraphs
  • begin with an executive summary (in bullet point form) of your main points
  • include hyperlinks and/or references to any material published elsewhere, and
  • include any recommendations you wish to make to Government/Parliament.

It is important when making any evidence-based recommendations to committees to understand the motives of the government they are scrutinising and their policy objectives. Remember also ‘the art of the possible’ and make recommendations considerately and accordingly. Don’t let that get in the way of the evidence or facts – but presenting compelling and concise evidence/recommendations in an accessible way to the committee will certainly help you stand out above the rest and go on to shape society.

For more detailed information, please refer to Parliament’s published guidelines or contact the clerk of the committee. Their details can be found via the committee webpages. If you are an ESRC-funded researcher, please contact through your case officer for further help or advice.

rob 150Rob Coleman is External Affairs Manager at ESRC. His role involves managing stakeholder relationships within parliamentarians and policymakers. He can be found on Twitter at @RColeman_PR

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