Responding to Select Committee Inquiries

Martin Smith, a Specialist at the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, explained the most effective ways of responding to Select Committee Inquiries at our February Policy Lunchbox

British Ecological Society image of westminster

Responding to Select Committee Inquiries is one of the most important ways that scientists can engage with policymakers and input evidence into the policy process. Compiling and submitting written or oral evidence can be labour and time-intensive, so knowing how to make a submission as concise, focused and impactful as possible is key. Martin Smith provided a fascinating insight into the Select Committee evidence-gathering process, as well as a number of tips on how to maximise the impact of an evidence submission.

Scientific input is vital

Members of Select Committees are rarely specialists on the subject under consideration. Similarly, the Specialists who read the evidence, plan the inquiry and brief the members usually have general, rather than specific, knowledge. The research community therefore plays a vital role in providing evidence to these Committees; this engagement is the foundation of the policy process.

What can you tell us that others cannot?

Examining evidence submissions from different organisations can entail reading a lot of duplicated information. While it’s inevitable that an organisation will seek to provide some context around an issue, avoid devoting the majority of a submission to this. The most effective approach is to concentrate on the information that your organisation can provide that others cannot. By foregrounding this unique angle and focusing the majority of the submission on it, you can avoid wasted effort and duplicated analysis. Providing facts and figures collected by your organisation or a strong analysis of the drivers of an issue are extremely helpful.

Be succinct, punctual and outcome-focused

Succinct, focused submissions have more impact than long-winded, general ones. If your organisation only has something to say in response to one of the inquiry’s Terms of Reference, then do not feel the need to respond to the others. Written submissions are often accepted after the deadline but their ability to shape an inquiry’s direction and scope diminishes over time. Finally, a good submission should provide recommendations for how to respond to the issue in question. Recommendations are key and, if your organisation does not make them, other organisations will!

What gets quoted?

If your submission is not quoted in the final report or does not lead to a call for oral evidence that does not mean it had no impact. Many excellent written submissions shape the direction of an inquiry or open up new areas of interest without resulting in a call for oral evidence. Evidence that tends to be quoted, however, neatly summarises an issue in a sentence or two, explains a complicated point in a clear, tangible way, or provides facts, figures and examples.

The report is not the end

Martin finished the talk by emphasising that the report does not have to represent the end of a Select Committee Inquiry process. Interested stakeholders can use a report or Government response as a starting point to build interest and rally their community around an issue. Organisations can also suggest a visit in order to show the Committee something of interest. Finally, Martin pointed out the importance of telling others about your experience of providing evidence and encouraging them to do the same. Evidence submission from learned societies and other organisations is the foundation of the policymaking; engaging in this process is vital.

If you have any questions about Policy Lunchbox please do not hesitate to get in touch with Camilla and we are always keen to hear from our members so please do email if you have any questions or opinions about the information within this blog.