How to engage with policymakers
Applied microbiology research is fuelled by the motivation for change in our world. To achieve this change, it is often essential to engage with policymakers and government officials. This can feel confusing, overwhelming, or even fruitless. However, with the right approach and communication style, connecting with and influencing the policy areas that matter to you can be easier than you think.
It is important to recognise that Members of Parliament (MPs) are responsible to the public. They have been elected to act on your behalf. MPs can voice your concerns in Parliament by asking a question in the House of Commons, proposing a debate topic, writing to a government minister who will be obliged to respond, or sitting on a relevant Committee charged with scrutinizing the government on the topic. Therefore, everyone has a right to feel empowered to communicate their desire for change to their MPs and to be listened to.
Contacting your MP
The first step in contacting your MP is to find out who your MP is, and to determine whether their political interests align with your cause. You can find out who your local MP is by entering your postcode on Theyworkforyou.com. This site also allows you to see your MPs interests and history of voting by policy issue.
Once you have located who your MP is, it is time to get in in contact with them. There are numerous different routes of communication you can take to get through to your MP. If you would like to contact your MP by phone or email, their contact details can be found at https://members.parliament.uk/. Alternatively, you can call he House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272.
Alternatively, you may want to write to your MP. To do this, you need to write to their Westminster address: House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Writing to your MP may mean you have to wait slightly longer for a response, compared to phoning or emailing. However, it can be advantageous to write a letter as it allows you to explain yourself more clearly and provide some helpful references if required.
Another approach could be contacting your MP over social media to bring attention to your cause – we would suggest following up any tweets/DMs with an email, letter, or a phone call to explain your point in full as character limits may make this challenging.
MPs also hold surgeries in their constituency to give people an opportunity to meet them and discuss matters of concern. MPs usually hold surgeries once a week and advertise them locally or online. It is important to check if it is required to make an appointment before attending a session with your MP. Attending a surgery with the MP may provide you with an opportunity to build a more personal relationship with your MP, as compared with other communication methods.
You may also find that you are able to respond to a Select Committee consultation or inquiry which is relevant to your topic of interest. The Select Committees of both the House of Commons and House of Lords scrutinise Government’s policies. Both Committees regularly issue consultations or inquiries on specific subject matters. Anyone can contribute to these calls for evidence, even if their contribution only pertains to part of the inquiry. In some cases, the Select Committees may contact contributors for further evidence and invite contributors to discuss their submissions during an oral evidence session, with the Committee members. You can find a list of the Commons Select Committees here and the Lords Select Committees here, where you can find their calls for evidence.
Contacting an MP involved in your Policy interest
It may feel more appropriate to contact an MP who is not your own local MP. This could be because they are more directly involved in the area of policy you are concerned with. MPs will generally only act on behalf of their constituents, although you can raise an issue with MPs not elected by your constituency but who have expressed an interest in your field/campaign.
Responding to a relevant Select Committee may give you an opportunity to meet with MPs interested in your topic of interest. If there is not an existing Committee already, you can suggest an area you think a Committee should investigate by contacting Select Committee staff, listed on the Committee’s webpages.
Additionally, you can contact an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) interested in your field. Although APPGs are not formal Parliamentary Groups, they are cross-party groups run by members of Parliament established to focus on one area of interest. APPGs are open to any member of the public, though you should contact an APPGs Secretariat to find out when and where meetings are due to take place.
Top Communication Tips
It is important to first consider what it is that you are asking of your MP or government official. Keep communications brief and succinct and be sure to make tasks and objectives clear from the beginning. It is a good idea to make sure that any scientific concepts or language are appropriate for a more general audience, this way policymakers are more likely to understand and engage with your point. Finally, when writing to, or emailing your MP, include your address in correspondence as MPs are only required to respond to constituents.
Get involved in AMIs policy work
Having a collective voice can have a bigger impact by attracting Parliamentary attention. Get involved in one of AMIs six Policy Priority Campaigns by contacting us at: Policy@appliedmicrobiology.org.
Lastly, be sure to fill in your membership interests at https://appliedmicrobiology.org/login.html so you can keep up to date with AMIs work in those areas that matter to you.