Academics’ perceptions of barriers to engaging with Parliament
In 2017, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and Parliament's Outreach team ran an online survey to better understand academics’ perceptions of barriers to engaging with Parliament.
The survey included questions around respondents’ knowledge about Parliament, previous engagement and how they find information about Parliament. It presented previously identified barriers and asked if respondents agreed these were barriers. It also gave them the opportunity to explain other reasons why they don’t engage or don’t feel able to.
The survey was publicised through blogs, social media and parliamentary networks and received 1162 responses from academics and research support staff.
Of the respondents, 90% had previously engaged with Parliament in some way, including: contacting a Member of Parliament, signing a petition, voting or encouraging others to vote, using research publications from Parliament, submitting evidence or working with a select committee, contacting or working with an All Party Parliamentary Group, contacting or working with POST, following a parliamentary Twitter account, or engaging with Parliament in another way. 21% rated their knowledge of the UK Parliament as high, 58% as medium and 21% as low. 57% rated their confidence in engaging with Parliament as low, 33% as medium and 10% as high.
The barrier identified by most respondents was lack of knowledge or guidance on how to engage with Parliament (66% agreement). This was followed by: lack of confidence to engage (44%); lack of time (43%), which was sometimes related to lack of institutional support; and perception of exclusivity of Parliament (42%). Lack of incentive to contribute and / or recognition was identified by 30%, and was sometimes related to funding, multiple time pressures, prioritisation of workload, or varying institutional support. 24% agreed that concerns around political biases were a barrier, whilst 20% agreed that concerns about parliamentary processes discouraged them from engaging. Money and distance were also reported to prevent engagement.
Some respondents felt that their personal or professional background was a barrier to engagement, citing: age, career stage, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, lack of prestige of university, location of university, nationality, race, regional origin, research methodology, and subject discipline.
Since the survey was conducted, Parliament has taken various steps to support academics to engage with Parliament. These include:
- The creation of UK Parliament's Knowledge Exchange Unit (KEU); a dedicated team to support and strengthen the exchange of information and expertise between Parliament and the research community.
- The creation of this research impact web hub. Designed specifically for academics, the hub puts all the information that researchers need to be able to engage in one place.
- The provision of a weekly email round-up of opportunities for the research community to engage with Parliament, and a dedicated @UKParl_Research Twitter account sharing these opportunities, both designed to be a easy ways to stay up to date with current ways to contribute as a researcher.
- Delivery of face-to-face and online training for researchers and knowledge mobilisers on how to engage with Parliament.
- The development of a Parliamentary Academic Fellowship Scheme, open to academics beyond PhD, and a pilot programme of Parliamentary Thematic Research Leads.
- A focus on supporting diverse and inclusive engagement between researchers and Parliament, including listening and consultation with women researchers, researchers from minority ethnic communities and researchers with disabilities.
- Work with Research England and UKRI, along with our colleagues in the devolved legislatures, to inform the development of the REF2021 assessment criteria and methods as well as future research assessment programmes, and feed into the development of the KEF and KE Concordat. This work is aimed to support researchers to demonstrate the impact of their work at UK Parliament for both the REF and KEF exercises.
- Creation of three short videos on the research web hub, designed to demystify Parliament, the people who work here, and the processes for engaging.
- A series of video interviews with researchers who have engaged with Parliament, which give real life examples of how researchers have worked with Parliament.
For more information on what we are doing to support academics to engage with Parliament, or if you have ideas you would like to share, please email the Knowledge Exchange Unit (KEU) on email@example.com.