New Policy Training Initiative Launches with Workshop

19 – 20 June saw members of the BES and NERC-funded researchers gather in Reading for training in how to engage with policy-makers. Over the course of two days, the group of 30 PhD students and early-career researchers carried out group exercises and activities to explore barriers to ecologists and environmental scientists engaging with science policy, and how these can be overcome.

The energy and enthusiasm amongst the researchers was obvious and it was great to see such interest from ecologists, and others, in sharing their work with both policy-makers and the public. Barriers suggested by participants included; problems identifying relevant contacts in Government Departments and Agencies; issues around communicating complex messages to a lay audience in a limited time; how to communicate uncertainty in an understandable, and not offputting, way; a lack of time and incentives to engage in policy-making if you’re pursuing an academic career.

Activities on day one included presentations from policy experts from Defra and the Environment Agency, examining how policy-making works and how scientists can inform this process. Groups were then asked to consider how they would communicate information to policy-makers in relation to a particular issue, and were given feedback on their presentation style and content by the policy-experts. Mentors with experience of the science – policy process were on hand to address participants’ queries and questions. Finally, day two saw targetted workshops on writing for a policy audience, and on influential oral communication skills.

At the end of the workshop, participants were asked what they had learned over the course of the two days. Many recognised the importance of communicating clearly, succinctly and precisely. Others highlighted the importance of people skills and networking in forming key contacts with policy-makers; building a personal relationship was highlighted by one of our policy experts as fundamental to ensuring continued communication between a scientist and a policy-maker. Finally, participants were enthusiastic about engaging with the BES and NERC Knowledge Exchange Team to help them in making links with policy-makers and in maintaining a network of contacts from the workshop who could help one another and share experiences.

This workshop was organised by the BES, NERC Knowledge Exchange Team and Environmental Research Funders’ Forum (ERFF), in partnership with the Defra Innovation Centre.