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By Anna Jackman, University of Reading


As geographers, we’re centrally concerned with the ‘grand challenges’ and ‘wicked problems’ confounding lives and environments alike. As a discipline, we are well-positioned to engage, inform and challenge ‘policy direction’ and decision-making. While recognising that policy-making involves wide-ranging contexts and considerations, this entry provides a practical guide to routes geographers might pursue in engaging UK policy-makers. Drawing upon my research into the impacts of drones on contemporary warfare and everyday life in the UK, it outlines routes to offering evidence, providing guidance, and widening research networks.


Offering evidence

Written and oral responses to House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committee inquiries, covering a wide range of societally-relevant issues, offer opportunities to share important findings from geographical research. For example, in 2019 the Commons Defence Committee launched the Domestic threat of drones inquiry, examining the risk of ‘terrorists and extremists maliciously using drones, and what the Government should do to address this threat’ (Defence Committee 2019).

Once announced, Committees open submissions of written evidence to 'the public, including academics' (UK Parliament n.d). While details are listed on inquiry webpages, general guidance stresses being concise, using sub-headings, avoiding jargon, and directly addressing the 'terms of reference of the inquiry' (UK Parliament n.d.a). You can be selective with the questions you respond to, based on your expertise. Once written evidence is submitted, it is processed and made publicly available (see, for example, the Domestic Threat of Drones submission page, including my submission).

As written evidence is reviewed, Committees can opt to invite respondents to act as ‘witnesses’, providing further information through oral testimony (UK Parliament n.d.a). As I learned as a witness, the Committee contacts you regarding session timing, format and scope, including confirming other witness that may be present (UK Parliament n.d.a). Committee members pose questions in sessions which last up to two hours and are typically streamed on Parliament TV (see, for example, the session I appeared in on It’s important to consider the key messages you wish to communicate and the ways you can frame your research in relation to both the inquiry and wider policy landscape.


Providing guidance

Geographers can also pursue engagement with policy-makers through the provision of guidance, including acting as a specialist adviser to a committee inquiry, or contributing to or reviewing a POST-note.

When Select Committees launch an inquiry, they may choose to appoint a ‘specialist adviser’, an ‘outside specialist paid by the day’ who assists with the inquiry (UK Parliament n.d.b). Potential candidates may be invited to ‘pre-appointment hearings’ wherein they present to the committee (UK Parliament n.d.b). While the role varies, it can include input into: the ways written evidence is solicited, witness sourcing, and published materials (UK Parliament n.d). As specialist adviser for the Science and Technology Committee ‘Commercial and recreational use of drones in the UK’ inquiry, over a five month period, I provided Members of Parliament (MPs) and the Committee secretariat (public servants who are not specialist in the policy area) with information on potential policy matters to consider, guidance on potential witnesses and questions to ask, and input into briefing materials, such as the Committee’s published report.

Another great opportunity for engagement is with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), through their production of POST-notes, short ‘briefings reviewing emerging areas of research’ (POST n.d.). Spanning wide-ranging themes, the development of a POST-note involves interviewing academics with relevant expertise (POST n.d.a). In my interview for the 2020 ‘Misuse of civilian drones’ POST-note, I answered subject-matter questions and offered information on wider areas and issues the briefing might consider. I was later asked to peer review the POST-note, a review process that is typically undertaken by 15-20 experts in the field (POST n.d.a).


Widening networks  

Academics can also widen their policy networks through attending and participating in relevant events, such as those hosted by Westminster Forum Projects, a group with ‘origins in UK parliament’ and who organise public policy area focused conferences involving ‘Ministers and regulators, opposition spokesmen and industry and interest groups’ (Westminster Forum Projects n.d). While there are fees for attendance, eligible participants can apply for free or reduced fee places.

In addition, you can identify relevant All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), namely ‘cross-party groups’ that are ‘run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords’ and focus on a policy area of shared interest (UK Parliament n.d.c). For example, upon contacting the ‘Drones and Modern Conflict APPG’, I was invited to speak at their 2019 Westminster ‘Rogue Drones’ event. Such participation can aid with both networking and forging potential policy engagement opportunities.

It's also important to note that policy engagement is not limited to working with policy-makers. There are a range of actors, from ‘civil servants to local councils and think tanks’ that work to explore and ‘confront policy problems’ (Rahman et al. 2022). In my research project, Diversifying Drone Stories, I have sought connection with a range of civil actors, whether by presenting at key events for UK local authorities (e.g. Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s Noise Management Conference), or approaching professional body groups such as the Institute of Acoustics (IOA). Pursuing an interest in the policy dimensions of drone noise, I approached the IOA and was invited to present my research to a relevant working group and to assist with their written consultation response to the Department for Transport’s Future of Flight regulatory review.



  • Get to know the policy landscape and the place of your research within it. Search for relevant parliamentary committees and All Party Parliamentary Groups, identify committee inquiries, search existing POST-notes, and identify resources on the House of Commons’ and House of Lords’ online libraries.

  • Understand potential opportunities. Get started with the Knowledge Exchange Unit, a small team ‘supporting the exchange of information and expertise between researchers and Parliament’ (UK Parliament n.d.d). The team’s online resources introduce how parliament ‘uses research’ and detail policy-engagement opportunities for academics at different careers stages. You can also search for select committee inquiries currently accepting written evidence, open consultations to which you can respond, and upcoming work in the POST work programme.

  • Don’t forget University resources. Universities often have useful resources, from impact managers that can highlight policy engagement opportunities and networks (including the Universities Policy Engagement Network, a community of UK universities working to increase the impact of research on policy, or partnership with the Open Innovation Team, which provides policy-focused training for academics), to IT, communications and/training support to assist with using social media for research and setting up a research website, to aid with the search and discoverability of your research.

  • Keep a record of engagement. Whether through a running CV or through requesting a letter detailing the scope of your policy-engagement, it’s useful to keep a record of your experience, as this can support job, probation, and promotion applications, or act as Research Excellence Framework evidence.


How to cite

Jackman, A. (2023) Engaging with policy-makers. Communicating research beyond the academy. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Guide. Available at:


About this guide

There’s a long tradition of geographers communicating research ‘beyond the academy’ - to policy, to publics, to young people, to school teachers -  whether to recruit students, for career development, critical praxis and activism, or requirements of funders to document ‘impact’. Ten years ago we published the Communicating Geographical Research Beyond the Academy guide. It sought to bring together and share collective experience and learning, from within and beyond the academy. Today, there’s ever more opportunities and modes and media with which to do this. While many of the points made – about audience, about access, about brevity and the use of plain English – still stand, this collection covers these already familiar issues as well as bringing new perspectives to encourage readers to reflect on motives, means and methods and to illuminate examples of good practice.



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