In the summer of 2017, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and Outreach 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.
Find our infographic summarising academics' perceptions of barriers to engaging with the UK Parliament ( PDF 315 KB)
Since the survey was conducted, we have been taking various steps to support academics to engage with Parliament. These include:
- In November 2017 we launched 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.
- We have been running events to help academics who are less likely to engage with Parliament to do so. For example, in March 2018 we ran an event targeted specifically at people working in non-Russell Group universities. Over 60 academics and research support staff from 25 different institutions attended this event, which aimed to help them to feel confident to work with Parliament and encourage others to do so.
- We are developing our multimedia content. In September 2018 we launched three short videos on the research impact web hub. These videos are designed to demystify Parliament, the people who work here, and the processes for engaging. They share information on how research is used in Parliament, why academics should engage and what being a specialist adviser for a select committee is like.
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 Dr Sarah Foxen, firstname.lastname@example.org.