Imperial College London

Communicating with Policymakers – Imperial researchers share their thoughts

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Picture of the panel discussion

Trust, credibility and framing are crucial for any communication with policymakers according to senior Imperial researchers.

The event was hosted by the Institute of Infection in partnership with The Forum, Imperial’s policy engagement programme and the Royal Society. Led by Professor Charles Bangham FRS, Co-Director of the Institute of Infection, Imperial researchers, the Royal Society and a former Chief Medical Officer spoke about the challenges of communication between policymakers like MPs and civil servants and researchers.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought renewed attention to the relationship between policymakers and researchers, how they interact, and the role of scientific advice in policymaking. 

It has also demonstrated that good communication between policymakers and researchers over the coming decades will be vital if we are to solve global challenges like Net Zero or future pandemics.

With this in mind, the event examined why researchers and policymakers have often found it difficult to interact with each other, and what advice the participants had for any researchers seeking to engage with policymakers.

Picture of panel discussion
The hybrid event began with a series of talks before moving on to a panel discussion

Referring to their experiences, this difficulty according to the speakers was the result of the very different environments in which policymakers and researchers operate, with separate priorities and constraints of time, attention and knowledge which results in a lack of shared understanding.

 To help encourage researchers to engage more with policymakers, the panel had a common set of recommendations for any effective communication.

First, that the researcher must demonstrate trustworthiness and credibility, which can be done by sticking to their specialism, stating the quality of evidence and being open about what they do and do not know.

Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer
Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer gave the opening remarks

Researchers, they suggested, should also be clear and concise when presenting evidence, with the role of the science advisor generally being to inform rather than persuade. However, there were some circumstances in which influencing policymakers to take action was seen as acceptable, provided advisors were transparent about their motivations, remained within the bounds of their expertise, and stopped short of advocating for particular policies. 

Finally, it was crucial to understand the reasons for a policymaker's question, and to frame any communication by making it clear to the policymaker why hearing about this research will benefit their policy programme.

If you are an Imperial staff or student and are interested in receiving advice and support to engage with policymakers then please do get in touch with The Forum team. If you would like to receive a recording of the event, you can find it on the Institute of Infection website.

A full report of the event will be available soon through the Institute for Infection.  

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Craig Whittall

Craig Whittall
Office of the President

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6595
Email: c.whittall@imperial.ac.uk

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James Rae

James Rae
Office of the President

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