Managing UK fisheries POSTnote

For the past three months I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake a fellowship at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST), which was sponsored by the British Ecological Society. It’s been a whirlwind of interviewing, writing and all things fish! My fellowship finally culminated with a new POSTnote on UK Fisheries Management that was launched at a packed breakfast briefing attended by many MPs and Peers in Portcullis House on 21st February.

As a fisheries scientist myself, I was really excited when I found out that the four-page briefing I’d be working on would be on UK fisheries management. At a time when fisheries are pretty high on the political agenda, I couldn’t wait to get started! Producing a POSTnote generally involves three stages, the first being a literature review to help you get a grounding in the topic and identify the aspects you’ll want to cover. The next step is then to interview relevant stakeholders so that you can hear people’s perspectives, get a more in-depth understanding of particular topics and gather evidence. This includes speaking to academia, industry and the third sector and I really enjoyed this part of the process. During this research phase I also had the opportunity to attend a number of fisheries related events and inquiries both in Parliament and externally, including a fisheries inquiry, fisheries debate and a ‘Best Practice in World Fisheries’ conference held by the Blue Marine Foundation.

The most important part of the POSTnote process was, of course, the writing! POSTnotes have to be condensed to four pages, kept impartial and fully referenced. I didn’t realise the amount of drafts that are created before the final briefing is produced – it goes through numerous reviews including an internal review, external review and final sign-off, in addition to all the drafts in between! Writing for a policy audience was a new challenge for me and I thought I would share some of the aspects that over my time writing became really important to get right:

A well-defined structure and narrative is key

Because there is so much information to cram into such a small space, and because most Parliamentarians only have a short amount of time to actually read a briefing, the way information is presented within a POSTnote is really important. Creating a narrative and putting information in a logical and easy to follow structure really helps guide the reader through complicated topics. This includes having helpful headings and subheadings and putting concepts in preceding paragraphs to introduce them to topics that they’ll come across in more depth later on in the briefing.

The content within a briefing requires a lot of time and effort to get right

Ok, so this sounds fairly obvious, but for me this was something that I found difficult to get right at first. UK Fisheries Management was a broad and complex topic, and it took a lot of time to really unpick what the key points and subtopics were that we wanted to cover. Writing lots of drafts, getting different people to comment on it, and making lots of mind maps helped to shape it into something that was pretty comprehensive whilst sticking to the four pages.

Keep it simple

Simplicity relates not only to the content that is included within the briefing and how to structure it, but also regarding what language to use. Having short sentences that focus on one point without using jargon or unnecessary acronyms helps to avoid overloading the reader or confusing them. Spending time on how to phrase something into an easier and simpler way and thinking about the meaning of every word that is used was something crucial to get right – every word and sentence counts in a POSTnote!

Overall, working at POST was a brilliant experience and one I would really recommend to other PhD students. It gave me a whole new perspective on how scientific evidence is used within decision making and the need to communicate this evidence clearly, accurately and effectively. Here’s hoping that this new POSTnote will be useful in informing further debates and discussions on future UK fisheries policy!

For more information on BES POST fellowships, see here.

You can find Katherine’s POSTnote here, and the details of its launch event here.

Follow Katherine on Twitter @k_maltby.