SPG Workshop at the Festival of Ecology 2020

The Scottish Policy Group (SPG) held a workshop on Understanding and Engaging with Policy at the Festival of Ecology last week. Alex Mills is a PhD Researcher at the University of Stirling who studies the long-term interactions between climate, ecology, and people in the Atlantic woodlands of Northwest Scotland.

Alex attended our workshop and wrote a blog about his experience. Check it out below…

‘In order to influence policy, ecologists need to get their message to policymakers. This requires effective communication and an understanding of how policy is made. This workshop provided an insight into the policy landscape in Scotland and gave tips for how ecologists can improve communication of their research.’


That’s my attempt at an ‘Elevator Pitch’ style summary of the Scottish Policy Group’s workshop ‘Ecology for Society: ‘Understanding and Engaging with Policy’’ from the British Ecology Society’s Festival of Ecology 2020. It is, admittedly, a work in progress, but, as this workshop showed, improving communication skills is necessary and takes time.

The workshop was a highlight of a brilliant week of ecological goodness.

The varied format included guest presentations, breakout sessions, a section on Elevator Pitches, and even time for live polls and feedback. All three guest speakers gave fresh perspectives on the interface between research and policy.


Nick Bibby of the Scottish Policy and Research Exchange (SPRE) offered tips of the trade for how we might bridge the gap between the two spheres. He urged that we focus on the policy questions, gain the attention of policymakers, and make our points relevant, clear, and brief.

Professor Des Thompson provided an insight into the (sometimes entangled) webs of ‘The Policy Cycle’, sharing his wealth of experience working in Scotland to secure positive outcomes for biodiversity. A key emphasis was placed on differences between researchers and policymakers, with the understanding that each group is often working on different timescales and using different language:

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli shared thoughts on how published, peer-reviewed research can influence policy. Once again, clear communication of the research was held to be essential:



Breakout discussion sessions proved a productive space to discuss points raised in the talks, as well as the wider context of all things policy and research. Although breakout Zoom rooms can instil a sense of dread, it was welcoming atmosphere and took advantage of the enforced virtual nature of this year’s conference.


Dr Isabel Jones and Dr Hannah Grist delivered a helpful (and humorous) practical introduction to ‘How to Structure an Elevator Pitch’. They were kind enough to note that some encounters with policymakers may not occur in an elevator – or even lift – and so we should feel free to use our pitches in other environments! They even set us the #MyWork1Sentence challenge: the somewhat daunting task of distilling our work into a single sentence. It would be churlish not to share my attempt:

“The past can provide insight into the resilience of the ecologically and culturally important temperate rainforest of Scotland and guide future conservation efforts #MyWork1Sentence”


It was an engaging, useful, and popular workshop, with over 90 participants.


I thoroughly enjoyed attending my first BES Scottish Policy Group event and look forward to many more in the future! And I can do no better than share/shamelessly steal this slide from the excellent workshop summary from BES Scottish Policy Officer Sarah McKain:


Oh, and if all else fails, ask to borrow Sammy the ‘very cute dog’ to ensure a rapturous response in the live feedback session:


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