Research, Impact and the UK Parliament

This event took place in the Darwin Building at University College London on the 7th June 2017 and was organised by the Universities programme at UK Parliament Outreach and Engagement Service.  These are my personal notes which may be of interest to any researchers who wish to improve the profile of their work among policymakers.

 

An Introduction to the UK Parliament

The UK Parliament is made up of The House of Commons; The House of Lords; and The Monarch.  The Monarch’s role is mainly ceremonial and is not a focus for impact activities.  There are typically 650 MPs in The House of Commons.

The Commons is the democratically elected chamber of Parliament.  The party (or parties) who can command the confidence of the House of Commons form the UK government – typically the party with a majority of members.  If no party commands a majority then a a minority government or coalition government may be formed.

The House of Lords used to be largely filled with hereditary peers.  The 1958 and 1999 reforms did away with most of these and most current Lords are life peers.  It is possible to become a Lord through hereditary title; public nomination to the House of Lords Appointments Commission; or (most typically) Prime Ministerial prerogative.  Traditionally the 26 highest ranking bishops and archbishops of the Church of England sit in the Lords.  Life peers can choose to retire but they typically serve for life.  There are 92 places for hereditary peers.  Many peers have an allegiance to a political party, but there are also cross-benchers who retain independence. The House of Lords does not conventionally block bills that were in a government manifesto, and can only delay and request amendments of legislation, not block it.

What does Parliament do?  The main activities are:

  • Making new laws
  • Raising and debating issues
  • Scrutinizing the work of the UK government

Parliament is not the same thing as Government (the party or parties that command the confidence of the commons).  For the development of policy and legislation the focus should be on the Government.  If the focus is on applying pressure or criticising a piece of legislation then Parliament is likely to be a more appropriate place to start.

How does Parliament use academic research?

  • House of Lords/Commons Select Committees (groups of MPs/Lords involved in an inquiry into an area of government activity or spending)
  • Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
  • House of Commons Library
  • House of Lords Library
  • Public Bill Committees

How can you contribute to legislation?

  • Respond to consultations (before it goes to parliament, e.g. green & white papers)
  • Make sure the subject specialists at the House of Commons Library knows you and your area of expertise
  • Submit evidence to pre-legislative scrutiny committees and/or Public Bill Committees
  • Brief opposition/backbench MPs and Peers to assist them in legislative debates

You can send 250 word summaries of subject expertise to papers@parliament.uk for the attention of subject specialists.  This means you will be entered onto a register of experts.

 

Academics and the UK Parliament

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) supports and advances the use of research evidence in Parliament.  Core activities include:

  • Producing 4 page briefings for MPs and Lords on topics deemed to be of policy relevance. The process includes literature reviews, interviews with stakeholders, etc.
  • Supporting Select Committees and Libraries (providing contacts and bespoke briefings
  • Connecting Parliament with researchers through events, fellowship schemes, etc.
  • Capacity Building through providing training to Parliamentary staff about using research and research methods

 

There are four POST areas:

  • Biological sciences and health
  • Energy and environment
  • Physical sciences and ICT
  • Social sciences

 

As part of the social science strand some work has been done on Parliamentary engagement through analysis of REF2014 case studies.  20% of impact case studies (N=1282) referred to engagement with Parliament.  88% of UK universities are engaged with Parliament in this way (from all 36 subject areas).  The universities which engaged the most were UCL, Oxford, Cambridge, KCL, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh.  The areas of Parliament that were engaged with most commonly were Select Committees (35%); Individual MPs or peers (28%); legislation (11%); debate (11%); APPGs (10%); libraries (3%); parliamentary questions (3%) and POST (2%).

The most typical form of engagement is through citation or mention (37%).  The next common is to provide evidence (18%).  Other examples include giving evidence, consultation, speaking or presenting, or through direct correspondence.

The POST note process provides a way to engage:

  • Written by postgraduate fellows over a period of three months
  • Topics are approved by the POST board
  • You can propose a POST note, or contribute to notes that are presently being worked on
  • First drafts of POST notes are usually written by non-specialists
  • Finished drafts are sent to all MPs and peers and made available through the Parliamentary website
  • The website shows notes that have been approved for drafting as well as work currently in progress
  • There is a mailing list and a Twitter account (@post_uk)
  • It can also be useful to follow the social media accounts of Select Committees or Library Sections, etc.
  • Fellowships are available through research councils, learned societies and charities
  • Academic fellowships are available for academics at institutions which hold an ESRC or EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (currently being piloted, deadline 30th June 2017)
  • Fellows are increasingly offered the chance to work directly with a Select Committee or Library Section

 

Libraries are keen to work with academics but often too busy to seek them out.    The Commons Library is made up of specialists who produce briefing papers and debate packs; the Lords Library comprises generalists and is a smaller team who focus on answering enquiries.

The contact email address for Libraries is: papers@parliament.uk

 

Engaging with UK Parliamentarians

The first step is to contact your local MP, who can be found on the Parliament website (www.parliament.uk) or by calling the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272.  Many MPs have a constituency office where they can be contacted.

It may be appropriate to contact other MPs – one approach could be to ask which other MPs might share an interest.

Members of the House of Lords have no constituency, but neither do they have the staff support that MPs have.  Many Lords are busy and have jobs outside of Parliament.  It is important to identify peers who will support your campaign. The email address  contactholmember@parliament.uk can be used to contact any peer.  Don’t bulk send information – if more than six copies are received all are deleted.

Individual parliamentarians are free to evaluate your communication and act in whatever way they feel is appropriate. There is no formal quality assurance process, so finding a sympathetic ear can be useful.  Targeting communication is important; having some sense of the action that you wish Parliamentarians to take helps to structure and strategically focus the communication.

Ways to find out more about Parliamentary interests:

  • All-Party Parliamentary Groups
    • These informal groups function like clubs and have been demonstrated to be a good way for researchers to gain influence
    • APPGs typically focus on a particular issue (‘subject groups’) or country
    • They can operate in wildly different ways because they are not uniform in their organisation or structure and they are self-run
    • There is a register of APPGs on the parliament.uk website
    • It can also be useful to identify Parliamentarians who might be obstructive to your legislative agenda through searching APPGs
    • Granularity can be an issue: ‘health’ is quite a broad category but there can be groups for specific areas of medicine or even specific medical conditions. Find the right group for your particular agenda
    • Ask for a list of contact details for members of the relevant APPG
  • Hansard (records of debate)
    • These can be searched for key words
    • Useful for identifying Parliamentarians
  • Early Day Motions (suggestions for future debates)
  • Select Committees

Another inquiry point could be to identify clerks or co-ordinators and contact them directly.  They are likely to be organised and quick to respond.

If you’re going to contact an MP or peer, how should you present yourself?

  • Be polite
  • Have a clear purpose for contacting them
  • Try to stand out from the hundreds of other emails they have received that day
  • Be clear about the new knowledge that has been produced by your research
  • Communicate broad lines first and drill down into the details
  • Parliamentarians are ‘intelligent non-specialists’ who are used to taking in complex information – there is no need to dumb down research for them but it is good practice to minimise jargon and communicate the main points clearly

 

What is good Select Committee evidence?

Select Committees:

  • Are intended to hold the government (or relevant governmental department) to account
  • Are independent in terms of their focus
  • Examine expenditure, administration and policy of each Government department
  • Do not investigate individual complaints
  • Are cross-bench and reflect the makeup of the House of Commons – serving ministers are not part of Select Committees

 

How Select Committees work:

  1. Choose inquiry
  2. Announce Terms of Reference (narrowing areas of focus)
  3. Open the call for evidence (typically open about 6 weeks)
  4. Collect written evidence
  5. Commission research (this is infrequently done, but still happens)
  6. Visits (to relevant stakeholders)
  7. Take oral evidence (these sessions are open to the public and sometimes televised)
  8. Discuss conclusions & recommendations
  9. Draft and agree report
  10. Publish report
  11. Receive a response from the Government, who are obliged to respond to each of the specific recommendations

Recommendations may be accepted in full or in part, or rejected.

Why engage with Select Committees?

  • Evidence based policymaking
  • Publicise research
  • Impact

How should one engage with a Select Committee?

  • Submit written evidence
  • Oral evidence
  • Act as a specialist advisor
  • Highlight relevant research

What is good evidence?

  • Relevant to the inquiry
  • Accessible, not academic – minimise jargon
  • Provides context and assesses the significance of a piece of research
  • Gives clear recommendations to the Committee
  • Avoid political point-scoring since Select Committees are cross-bench
  • Bear in mind the original terms of reference (and possibly use this to structure the report)

One area of focus for Select Committees is to improve the diversity of those who are asked to provide evidence.

The best place to start when thinking about approaching a Select Committee is Twitter – every SC has a Twitter account where requests are made.

Things to think about:

  • How is your research relevant to public policy?
  • Which inquiries could you submit evidence to?
  • How will the REF influence your research?

On the subject of REF:  it is not entirely clear how one might use Parliamentary activity as a way of demonstrating impact.  Keeping records of engagement (e.g. a letter of thanks) is a good idea because this could potentially be used as part of a case study.

Select committees have no role in legislation, though they may be asked to provide scrutiny on bills that are in early stages.

Bill committees also take evidence on a particular subject and related legislation.   Bill committees are run by the Public Bill Office and chosen by party whips.  They are more political and controlled by political parties.

 

 

Intervention – “Control, Resistance, and the ‘Data University’: Towards a Third Wave Critique”

AntipodeFoundation.org

by The Analogue University[1]

From Auditing, Controlling, to Desiring Data

The term “neo-liberal university” has become shorthand for a range of contemporary pressures in university life (Burrows 2012; Strathern 2000). However, increasingly we are not only considering specific pressures – such as workload, anxiety, and the reduction of research to profit – but also the general position of the university itself in history (Chatterton et al. 2010: 251; Gill 2009; Mountz et al. 2015; mrs c kinpaisby-hill 2011).

In an early critique of the neo-liberal university, Marilyn Strathern (2000) put the bifurcation point for North American and European Universities around the turn of the new millennium, when neo-liberal metrics and audit culture moved from the worlds of business and accounting into mainstream academic life. This first wave of critique of neoliberalism in the academy saw education as a public good being forced to mimic the market where academic values could…

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Rethinking the Open Society #oer17

Here are my slides from yesterday’s presentation at OER17.  All feedback welcome.

Abstract

This presentation explores open education ideologies in light of educational technologies; recent political discourse; and the political philosophy of Karl Popper.  Since the latter half of the 20th century, “openness” has developed within stable frameworks of liberal/social democracy, and is now often tacitly assumed in many areas of society (such as open government, a free press, freedom of speech, etc.).  Over the last year we have witnessed considerable and sustained political upset around the globe, causing many to proclaim a crisis of liberal democracy. In the Anglo world, we observe a surge of support for ‘closed’ political positions, including ‘Brexit’ and the USA presidential election (Knapton, 2016).  There are indications that openness might form the basis of an alternative politics; the Píratar political party evolved from a single-issue focus on copyright reform to become the biggest party in Iceland, standing on a platform of civil rights and participatory democracy.  Slaughter (2016) proposes that the web is the new geopolitical theatre, and that the USA “should adopt a grand strategy of building and maintaining an open international order based on three pillars: open societies, open governments, and an open international system.”

Moe (2017) describes the difficulties inherent in developing and teaching critical thinking, especially within standardised education.  In the connected age, access to information and control over media narratives are paramount to governance.  In the age of ‘post-truth’ we need more than ever educational systems that promote information literacy and critical thinking. There is reason to think that there is a need to reconsider the ideological basis and commitments of open education and its practices, many of which remain wedded to traditional academic structures.  This may seem counterintuitive: as Weller (2014) suggests, the ‘battle for open’ is in many senses won, with a growing body of open access publication; open textbook uptake; open source tools for building learning environments; massive open online courses; and open sharing of research data. However, Rolfe (2016) has demonstrated through content analysis a fundamental shift in the discourse around open education.  Articles from the 1970s tended to understand openness in terms of widening participation, and with this came a concomitant promotion of humane values, fostering autonomy, facilitating the development of others, and a wider social mission. This approach has in turn been disrupted by the rise of flexible learning in higher education and the wide availability of educational materials.  By the time the OER movement had grown to a global force much of the debate had moved on to licensing, technical and implementation issues (Weller, 2016).

A reconsideration of the role of ideology in OER will be framed by elements of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (1947).  Popper’s approach was hugely influential for Western liberal democracy, and remains arguably the most sustained attempt to develop a vision of society from the idea of openness.  Popper’s critical approach to education – which emphasizes the role of learner as so-creator of knowledge– serves as a model for making explicit the connection between critical rationality and openness, and provides tools for systematically reflecting on educational practice (Chitpin, 2016).

References

Chitpin, S. (2016). Popper’s Approach to Education. London and New York: Routledge.

Knapton, S. (2016). Donald Trump is a ‘vulgar, demented, pig demon’ says Hillary Clinton’s ex adviser. The Telegraph, 30 May 2016.

Moe, R. (2017). All I Know Is What’s on the Internet. Real Life Mag.http://reallifemag.com/all-i-know-is-whats-on-the-internet/

Popper, K. (1947a). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol. I: The Age of Plato. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/stream/opensocietyandit033120mbp.

Popper, K. (1947b). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol II: The high tide of prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/details/opensocietyandit033064mbp.

Rolfe, V. (2016). Open.  But not for criticism?  Open Education 2016.http://www.slideshare.net/viv_rolfe/opened16-conference-presentation

Slaughter, A.-M. (2016). How to Succeed in the Networked World: A Grand Strategy for the Digital Age. Foreign Affairs. (Nov/Dec.) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2016-10-04/how-succeed-networked-world

Weller, M. (2014). The Battle for Open. Ubiquity Press.

Weller, M. (2016). Different Aspects of the Emerging OER Discipline. Revista Educacao e Cultura Contemporanea, 13(31) http://oro.open.ac.uk/4

Open Educational Resources from Government and Partliament

OUseful.Info, the blog...

Mentioning to a colleague yesterday that the UK Parliamentary library published research briefings and reports on topics of emerging interest, as well as to support legislation, that often provided a handy, informed, and politically neutral  overview of a subject area that could make for a useful learning resource, the question was asked whether or not they might have anything on the “internet of things”. The answer is not much, but it got me thinking a bit more about the range of documents and document types produced across Parliament and Government that can be used to educate and inform, as well as contribute to debate.

In other words, to what extent might such documents be used in an educational sense, whether in the sense of providing knowledge and information about a topic, providing a structured review of a topic area and the issues associated with it, raising questions about an…

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The Higher Education and Research Bill

The Disorder Of Things

The third and final reading of the UK’s HE Bill has been scheduled for next Monday, 21 November. If it passes the Commons and then the Lords, it will become law. Thanks in part to the turmoil around Brexit, this Bill has flown under the radar for virtually everyone, perhaps even most students and academics. But the consequences, if it passes, will be disastrous. Many academics seem to think it is just yet another piece of regulatory dross, yet another bureaucratic millstone to add to the many around their necks – and thus barely worth registering a protest about. The reality is actually very different. As I’ve warned on this blog before, the Bill will have a drastic impact on the economy of UK HE, and on the education we provide. Last-ditch resistance is urgently needed.

university-college-fire-john-edwin-usher

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Critical issues in contemporary open education research #srhe

This presentation outlines some key considerations for researchers working in the fields of open education, OER and MOOC. Key lines of debate in the open education movement is described and critically assessed. A reflective overview of the award-winning OER Research Hub project will be used to frame several key considerations around the methodology and purpose of OER research (including ‘impact’ and ‘open practices’). These will be compared with results from a 2016 OER Hub consultation with key stakeholders in the open education movement on research priorities for the sector. The presentation concludes with thoughts on the potential for openness to act as a disruptive force in higher education.

#liveblog: Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education #srhe

Today I’m in London for the Digital University Network Seminar at the Society for Research into Higher Education. Lesley Gourlay began proceedings by noting that openness is an area which needs to be looked at in the context of the ‘digital university’ series.  Here are my notes on the presentations by the other two speakers.

Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices for teaching in higher education

Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway)

Catherine’s talk was focused on how actors in higher education make sense of OEP. She emphasized that “education is inherently an ethical and political act” (Michael Apple). As educators we face fundamental questions about the role of higher education in the future, and the kind of skills and literacies we are trying to develop. She believes we need more criticality, more theoretical work and more focus on privilege.

In her PhD work the focus is on the ethos of transparency and sharing. Some of the learning spaces in higher education are experiencing changing boundaries, becoming more networked and less bound by physical space. In ‘open’ spaces different voices and interactions are emphasized. Much has been published on openness. There are many different interpretations, but there are few empirical studies, or studies that adopt a critical approach. How do people make choices around the benefits and risks? It was noted that openness cannot it itself be considered an educational virtue.

OEP are perhaps even harder to define than OER. Some approaches include open pedagogy, critical (digital) pedagogy, digital scholarship and networked participatory scholarship. Further complexity is added by the different levels of application (from individual to institutional, for instance). Catherine’s research looks at shared values, the use of OEP in teaching and way that decision-making about OEP adoption takes place. A constructivist grounded theory approach is taken (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) with analysis that acknowledges the subjective and interpretivist understandings of individuals (Charmaz, 2014).

So far it has been found that it is hard to determine who qualifies as an “open practitioner” because there is a wide spectrum of practices and pedagogical choices. A minority of participants use OEP for teaching (e.g. social networking, open VLE, use & reuse of OER, . Most perceive potential risks with OEP. Findings include:

  • 2 levels of OEP use identified:
    • “Being open”
    • “Teaching openly”
  • 4 dimensions shared by educators
    • Balancing privacy and openness
    • Developing digital literacies
    • Valuing social learning
    • Challenging traditional teaching

Catherine suggests that these are intimately connected. For instance, it is impossible to effectively manage online privacy without developing digital literacies. Valuing social learning involves implicitly challenging traditional learning approaches.

Some educators talk about openness as a kind of ethos or way of being. Others see it as a distraction, or as a pragmatic approach. These differences can be observed as the nano, micro, meso and macro levels. Most guidance is offered at the macro level, but the day-to-day decisions are smaller and less well supported. Other issues that were highlighted were the anxiety and stress experiences by individuals who feel that by being open they are inviting observation and possibly controversy; and the sense that institutions are not providing adequate support.

Some general conclusions:

  • OEP use is complex, personal, contextual and continuously negotiated
  • More evidence is needed on the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students
  • Open education strategies need to reflect the real benefits and risks
  • HEIs should provide support for developing digital identities, navigating tensions between privacy and openness, and spaces to reflect on changing roles in a more participatory culture.

 

Exploring higher education professionals’ use of Twitter for learning: issues of participation

Muireann O’Keeffe (Dublin City University)

Muireann’s research focused on use of Twitter by 7 HE professionals. Martin Hawksey’s TAGS explorer was used to collect data. Semi-structured interviews followed – these underwent thematic analysis. Some important theoretical influences:

  • Eraut (2004) identifies three factors for informal learning: feedback; challenge; confidence/commitment.
  • White & Le Cornu (2010) on ‘spaces’ rather than communities of practice and the distinction between ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049)

‘Visitors’ tended to be information gatherers, with little social presence. They tend not to ask questions of others.

  • Barriers for this group include time, cautiousness, vulnerability, capacity to participate, confidence
  • A tendency to lack confidence in their own knowledge
  • Tendency to think of themselves as an observer rather than participant
  • A belief that the platform was designed for someone else – not them
  • Feel marginalized and excluded

‘Residents’ positively experience questioning, challenge, and other forms of academic debate on Twitter. They engage in non-educational commentary.

  • Unlike the ‘visitors’, this group tended to speak in terms of enablers
  • They are confident with Twitter etiquette: playfulness, tone, etc.
  • They were more likely to have a professional confidence, and a capacity to participate

#opened16 live blog: College Affordability and Social Justice

Preston Davis (aka @LazyPhilosopher) invites us to think about the early days of Western civilisation where philosophers like Plato and Aristotle formed educational institutions on the basis of their own privilege.  This kind of system persisted into Roman times, where males with the ability to pay could attend organised schools where they would learn to become educated citizens of the empire.

Education was further formalised in the Middle Ages, but mostly organised according to the strategic aims of the church.  Formalised educational systems in the USA widened curriculum and admitted women, but still remain ‘exclusive’ in many ways.

Rawlsian theories of social justice are reflective of conversations that are starting to take place in OER around stepping back from personal bias when making decisions.  If we disregard the considerations of race, gender, class and so on, we can support a more democratic and equally distributed educational system.

The remark is made that aspects of the USA educational system are exclusive rather than inclusive.  Much of the OER movement was organised around saving money on textbook costs, but this overlooks wider patterns of disenfranchisement.  The Sanders run for USA president foregrounded the idea of access to higher education as a matter of social justice.  Should education be ‘free’?

From the discussion:

  • Class divides are reinforced by higher education.  Some scholarships are set aside for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but does this really change structural patterns of disenfranchisement?
  • If public education was made free, would this lead to a loss of resources through inefficiencies?
  • Can we really act as if we are ‘difference-blind’?
  • Is the difference between the student who goes on to higher education and the one who doesn’t a matter of money?  Disenfranchisement has other elements, e.g. confidence, role models, self-interpretation,  Much of these are the kind of ‘differences’ stripped out of the Rawlsian model.
  • How can social justice be understood from the perspective of what is essentially privilege?
  • Low cost vs. free?

The Open Research Agenda #opened16

Today at Open Education 2016 I presented the provisional results of a research consultation exercise we have been doing at OER Hub over the last year.  Several people asked for copies of the slides, which are available here and on the OER Hub SlideShare account.

All feedback welcome.  You can still take part in the project by completing the form at tinyurl.com/2016ORA.