Getting political: A statistician's guide to influencing parliament

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Statisticians and parliamentarians might not seem the most obvious of friends but as statistics becomes increasingly entrenched in political debate (as shown by the EU referendum campaign), statisticians are a valuable ally to MPs and peers alike. The RSS 2016 professional development session titled ‘A statistician’s guide to influencing parliament’ was aimed at those looking to make an impact with their work on the legislative process.

Gary Hart of the Parliamentary Outreach Team highlighted the numerous ways in which statisticians can reach out to parliamentarians. Select committees hold a large number of inquiries for which they actively welcome written responses from those in the statistical community. This is an area in which the RSS is very active in, having (at time of writing), submitted 21 responses to a varied range of inquiries, from civil service skills to how science can be better communicated to the public.

Gary encourages all with an interest in select committees' work to contact committee clerks if they required help with submissions or even have an idea for a potential inquiry. Clerks actively encourage further engagement with the public and are always open to new ideas. The House of Commons' and House of Lords’ libraries, which provide research briefings to MPs and parliamentarians, are also a good place to contact as well as the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST).

So statisticians may have more ways to build up relationships with parliament then it may seem. This is an area in which the RSS has built up its capacity considerably in recent years. Roeland Beerten, RSS director of policy & public affairs, talked through the RSS’s stance and the ways of influencing key policy issues such as those highlighted in the RSS Data Manifesto, including improving statistical literacy, ending pre-release of official statistics and the opening up of government data. Roeland added that utilising the RSS membership’s expertise through its advisory groups, sections and other means is paramount to the RSS having a continued dialogue with parliamentarians.

Professor Christl Donnelly, a statistician and epidemiologist, shared her experiences on influencing parliament and policymakers through her work on such epidemics as BSE and Ebola (for which she was part of the World Health Organisation response team). Christl advised those looking to influence parliamentarians through their research that it is important to present work 'not just as science' but to stress its policy implications. Summing up, Christl concluded that 'considering cost and being concise' were important to ensuring research has an impact.

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