Academics and select committees by Daniel Casey

Grantham Scholar Daniel Casey explains how academics can work with select committees and so influence policy. 

Meeting the International Development Select Committee

Grantham Scholar Daniel Casey.

I was lucky to be able to meet the International Development Select Committee at the Houses of Parliament at a reception for early career academics.

At the event there were academics present from masters level all the way up to senior lecturer level. This was an invaluable opportunity to network – as well as enjoy the free food and drink on offer! I met people researching in a diversity of areas.

Whilst International Development is not a focus of my PhD, I come from an International Development background. And it’s an area where my research could also be applied to aid policy making in the future.

Role of academics in politics

Academics were introduced to the select committee through brief talks. Leoni Kurt (Committee Outreach Manager), Stephen Twigg MP (Committee Chair) and Rachael Cox (Committee Specialist) all spoke.

These talks offered insights into the vital role academics have to play within British politics. Academics can both help select committees scrutinise different government departments’ work and aid their decision making processes around pressing matters.

What are select committees?

Throughout the year, select committees decide what topics of inquiry they would like to explore in relation to the government’s work.

A press note outlining the main themes is released along with a call for written submissions. For example, at the moment the committee is examining the situation in Syria. They are asking academics to get involved in providing them with evidence on what is currently happening.

Select committees are always keen to hear from experts in the field they advertise for. And academic evidence is often heavily relied upon in different select committee’s inquiry processes. Evidence can also be provided orally at certain meetings. At the end of the process a written report is submitted to the House for consideration.

Tips for submitting evidence to select committees

At the reception we were told some handy tips to think about when submitting evidence.

It’s helpful when submitting written evidence to be as concise as possible, something which some academics (myself included!) often struggle with.

Evidence should be simple to understand and not written in an overly academic manner.

Additionally, evidence should include facts which the committee can use when writing their report to present to the House, and address the terms of reference of the call clearly and directly.

Given that evidence is used to scrutinise policies it is also helpful if any policy recommendations are made for the committee to consider.

Policy and the SDGs

From the reception I was able to understand how academic work can be made more relevant to policy and applicable to society at large. Moreover, in light of the recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the role of academic research stood out to me as being of crucial importance to the SDGs’ success and future progress. In order to make sustainable policies across societies it’s important to gather opinions from a wide variety of people on how to achieve that ideal goal.

More on the Grantham Centre and the UK Government

We’ve worked with a number of select committees, as well as other policy-makers at parliament. For example, our co-director Rachael Rothman gave evidence to an EFRA committee on plastic waste and reuse. Read: Our co-director gives evidence to EFRA plastic waste committee. This is just one of the times people from our special projects Many Happy Returns and Plastics: Redefining Single-Use have given evidence to government.

And with help from Centre Manager Deborah Beck, a number of our people have worked with or at Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). POST is parliament’s in-house research service, which provides impartial summaries of scientific evidence to inform policy issues.

Grantham Scholar Nicole Kennard completed a POST Fellowship in 2021. Read: Nicole Kennard research fellowship in Parliament.

In 2020, Joe Llanos had three-month placement with POST and wrote a POSTnote. Read: A resilient UK food system: POSTnote by Grantham Scholar for more information.

Grantham Centre experts gave evidence to POST about both soil health and plastic food packaging in 2019. If you want to find out more then read: Our experts give evidence on soil and plastic to POST.

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Edited by Claire Moran. Photo by Joanna Zduńczyk from Pexels.