Posted on: 15/05/2023

Using a 360-perspective policy-messaging approach to maximise awareness, interest and action!


2023 continues with a strong policy theme with our monthly events ‘Research and Public Policy: Increasing Impact with Professor Graeme Reid’. This five-part series of in-person events, taking place around the UK, gives fellows access to someone with a lifetime of experience in policy from multiple perspectives. We’ll be posting key messages from these events if you are unable to attend, whilst respecting the “Chatham House Rules” which prompted people to ask questions and seek guidance in confidence.

We’ve organised the insights from Graeme and his guests into three themes: orientation, messaging, and relationships and access. The first blog in this series focused on orientation and provided advice to help Fellows understand the process and eco system of policy making so they can prepare and engage effectively.

This second blog focuses on messaging and draws together discussions from our first three events in Edinburgh, London and Salford.

Whether you are familiar with the policy world or not, your first interaction with policy makers requires thought.

For written text, this might be around its length and structure; it might involve slightly different referencing styles to those you have used in academic writing; or it might need to use slightly different language or ordering of points in the text. Read more about writing for policy makers from the University of Edinburgh’s policy team and from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

It may be worth considering how best to use the time at in-person meetings, and when to arrange them. Preparation for larger events should consider other attendees, identifying who you want to speak with and why. By shaping the key messages you want to convey you will increase impact and be prepared for counter arguments and challenging questions! Hearing counter arguments is essential in shaping the bigger picture and understanding other parties’ benefits and difficulties. While it may be hard to respond immediately, these encounters will ultimately help you gain a better understanding of the issue and allow you to get an appreciation of the messaging that policymakers receive. Following up from insightful interactions at events could involve sharing any evidence pieces discussed, offering to provide a written contribution to event proceedings or planning next actions with any like-minded new contacts. Read more about getting the most out of networking events here.

Regardless of the messaging, a recurring word of advice from Prof. Reid was to “take a 360 approach  That is to consider all the stakeholders involved in your topic. For many policy areas the stakeholder list can be significant and vary from policy makers, local authorities, local and international businesses, researchers, health professionals, and of course the general public. Each of these stakeholders will have a slightly different stance on the issue, different personalities, and different methods of communication, so being aware of this “360” viewpoint is critical in your own effective messaging. Not only will it force you to rethink and refine your own point of view, but it will allow you to demonstrate an awareness of the complexity of the issue and show where your expertise plays a critical role in the bigger picture.

A “360” understanding of an issue will also allow you to better appreciate the multiple steps required to shape a policy and enable you to deliver your messages at the most opportune points. Be prepared to be adaptive and opportunistic to strike while the iron’s hot!

Depending on the subject area, another aspect of the “360” approach might include considering legacy policy, public opinion from recent decades and upcoming plans in the geographical region or policy area. For example, the effects of numerous mine closures in the 1980s are still being felt by many communities and policies that resonate with these sensitivities must be managed with careful consideration of all stakeholders, past and present. This example also lends itself to the combination of evidence-informed policy making and political-based policy making; having an awareness of both in a “360” approach will place you in a stronger position to inform and advise.

Prof. Reid suggested that by raising awareness of an issue first you will be in a better place to eventually advise. This may feel counter-intuitive if your work is still in progress, incomplete or at a very early stage. But raising awareness can be as simple as taking a step back from the detail, describing what the issue is and setting out the 360-perspective (including those pesky counter arguments and passionate campaign groups). With this full picture you will be in a stronger position to create interest and gain trust which might lead to calls for evidence, preparation of briefings, or calls for public inquiries. All of which you will be poised to contribute to!

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