Policy internship – a view from the National Assembly for Wales

By Piotr Węgorowski. Cardiff University 

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The Pierhead (image from Flickr by Michael Gwyther-Jones; licensed under Creative Commons) The building officially forms part of the National Assembly for Wales. That is where TLANG’s second networking assembly is set to set place later on in the year, so look out for details.

The TLANG project aims to engage with a wide range of stakeholders. As Adrian Blackledge put it when addressing the American Association for Applied Linguistics earlier on this year:

“We are able, when we are designing our research projects, to make sure that from the start, integrally, we collaborate with practitioners, non-government organisations, community members, policy makers, so that then though we’re speaking about our research findings we speak with a collective voice.”

In order to better understand different ways in which researchers can engage with policy makers and indeed understand how parliamentary bodies operate I have completed an internship at the National Assembly for Wales Research Service. In this blog post I would like to reflect on this recent experience and describe what I have learnt that could be useful for researchers willing to engage with policy makers.

What did I do?

The internship was part of a Research Councils UK scheme, which allows PhD students to work at a partner host organisation for three months. The application process required writing a mock policy briefing in a style of a POST note. Inspired by the TLANG project’s engagement with language and sport in superdiverse cities, I briefly researched issues surrounding increasing participation in sports among diverse communities. I was then invited to attend an interview in London and offered a place, which I took up in January, and my placement ran through until the end of March.

The Research Service offers expert, impartial and confidential support for Assembly Members and their staff. I was based in the Health and Social Policy team, which primarily supports the Health, Social Care and Sports Committee but also deals with sport and community safety. The Research Service assists Assembly Members in a number of ways. Firstly, it produces research briefings which aid the scrutiny of legislation and policy. Most of the scrutiny is done through the work of committees. Secondly, it answers Assembly Members’ enquires relating to Assembly business and constituency work. This is an area where I engaged with most, dealing with enquiries on a range of subjects, from accessibility of defibrillators to crime statistics. And lastly, the Research Service publishes a range of briefings and publications, including a blog, to which I contributed by writing about gambling addiction as well as Police and Crime Commissioners.

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The Senedd. Home to the National Assembly for Wales (image from Flickr by Ben Salter; licensed under Creative Commons)

What did I learn?

Working at the Research Service has been a great opportunity to gain an insight into the workings of the Assembly. It was an exciting time to be there, as the Assembly gave its consent to the new Wales Bill (now Act), and so it was useful to learn about changes to devolution in Wales. In fact, finding out a little bit more about various areas of competence that the devolved administrations have has made me more conscious of who is responsible for specific policy areas.

On a personal level, writing for different audiences has been a useful exercise. Similarly, knowing where to find various policy documents and how to engage with them means that I will be able to incorporate some of the policy background into my own research, which deals with Police Community Support Officers’ communicative practices.

What can you learn from my experience?

The Research Service has published a useful blog post summarising the ways in which researchers can engage with policy-making and scrutiny process. One of the key messages is to understand what Assembly’s committees, which play a vital role in scrutiny, do. The committees often run consultations in a number of areas and announce calls for written evidence, and it is a good idea for researchers to keep up to date with their work, either by visiting their website or through social media. For instance, a couple of months ago the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee carried out an inquiry into refugees and asylum seekers in Wales, which is an area in which the Cardiff TLANG team have been working for the final stage of the project research. Often, third sector organisations are very good at keeping up to date with recent legislation in the area, so from a research point of view, the relationships with other stakeholders are invaluable.

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Senedd – view from the inside. An image of the Chamber where all the hot political discussions take place (image, Piotr)

Above all it is important to make your expertise as a researcher known. For instance, the Research Service offers researchers the opportunity to register as an external expert adviser. Similarly, during my internship when I tried to access various pieces of research I realised the importance of open access and disseminating research results to wider audiences. As a PhD student with access to articles through my university’s subscription I might have taken the issue for granted. In this respect, I am glad to know that as a team we publish all our reports in a format that is accessible to the general public.

In sum, the internship has opened up and demystified a world of policy-making, and I hope that the lessons I have learnt will be useful, both to the TLANG team and more broadly.

 

 

 

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