Two days at Holyrood: lessons learned from a glimpse into policy making in Scotland

13 Feb 2017

Chloe Bellamy, one of our spatial scientists within the Land Use and Ecosystem Services Science Group, spent an exciting two days last December shadowing Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham. She applied for this opportunity, which is run on an annual basis by the British Ecological Society, to get a better understanding of the day-to-day work life of a policymaker and to gain an insight into how scientific information is considered during the policy making process. Chloe was able to follow the Cabinet Secretary to all but the most sensitive of meetings, from consultations on the new Climate Change Plan, to prioritising resources across the wide range of policy issues falling within the Cabinet Secretary’s portfolio.

Amongst other things, this valuable insight highlighted to Chloe the mismatch in science and policy timetables and the importance of being ready to respond quickly to policymakers’ calls for evidence with clear summaries of research findings. She sums up three key lessons she learned on how scientists can improve their impact on policy:

  • Summarise findings for policy. As well as aiming to publish peer reviewed papers, make it common practice to summarise your findings as easily digested bullet points throughout the course of a project, and as a ministerial brief at the end of a project. You can find some useful tips here.
  • Get clued up and join in. Parliamentary matters are much more transparent and documented than I had previously realised. Anyone can get a pass to watch Ministers’ Questions at Holyrood (or Westminster) or find transcripts and footage of them on the internet. Also, look into joining science-policy networks, such as ESCom Scotland or the BES Scottish Policy Group.
  • Don’t be intimidated. I found that Holyrood was a much more formal environment than I’m used to working in. To be able to engage policy makers about your science confidently face-to-face, it is important to feel calm and comfortable, so take opportunities to mix with them whenever possible (see above!).

You can read more about Chloe’s shadowing experience here.