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Parliamentary Thematic Research Leads

In 2023, Parliament and the ESRC are piloting a new role in Parliament: the Thematic Research Lead. This role, if proven, may ultimately become highly influential and prestigious, somewhat like the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisers, but shaped for a parliamentary context.

What are Parliamentary Thematic Research Leads?

Between 2013 and 2012, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) collaborated with Parliament by investing in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Between 2013 and 2022, the partners embedded social science research in Parliament, developed a world-leading Knowledge Exchange Unit, and established a culture of knowledge exchange between Parliament and the research community.

Building on the successes of the past decade, in 2023 POST is entering into a new phase of collaboration with ESRC that seeks to bring about a step change in the way research feeds into Parliament’s scrutiny, legislation and debate. This collaborative activity was launched by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, and is supported by Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the POST Board, Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of the ESRC, and Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser. 

In 2023, new pilot thematic policy hubs will be created to bring together experts from select committees, library staff and POST. These hubs will allow parliamentary staff to share and develop expertise to inform scrutiny, legislation and debate that addresses key economic and societal challenges.

POST and ESRC is piloting the creation of a network of Thematic Research Leads (TRLs) in support of this work.

TRLs are mid-career researchers embedded part-time in the hubs, bringing their academic expertise and experience of working with research evidence to the policy, research and analysis work that is carried out across Parliament.

These positions, if proven, may ultimately become highly influential and prestigious roles at the heart of Parliament.

The TRLs will help to ensure that:

•   thematic policy hubs take a strategic, forward-looking, evidence-informed approach to engaging with policy areas
•   the best available research evidence feeds into the committees, libraries and POST
•   networks and connections between Parliament and the wider research community are strengthened

The TRL role is part time (three days a week), with the researcher retaining their substantive academic post for the remaining two days a week.

The first TRLs who have been appointed are:

  • Dr Tamsin Edwards, Thematic Research Lead on Climate and Environment (and Reader in Climate Change, King's College London)
  • Dr Kristen A Harkness, Thematic Research Lead on International Affairs and Defense (and Senior Lecturer and Director of the Institute for the Study of War and Strategy, University of St Andrews)
  • Dr Rick Whitaker, Thematic Research Lead on Parliament, Public Administration and Constitution (and Associate Professor in Politics, University of Leicester) 

Where can I get more information?

For any questions, please contact Dr Sarah Foxen, Knowledge Exchange Lead, UK Parliament on the Knowledge Exchange Unit’s email address: