For nearly ten years, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has collaborated with Parliament by investing in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Through the collaboration, the partners have embedded social science research in Parliament, developed a world-leading Knowledge Exchange Unit, and established a culture of knowledge exchange between Parliament and the research community.

Building on the successes of the past decade, POST is now entering into a new phase of collaboration with ESRC that seeks to bring about a step change in the way research feeds into Parliament’s scrutiny, legislation and debate.

This autumn, new pilot thematic policy hubs will be created to bring together experts from select committees, library staff and POST. These hubs will allow parliamentary staff to share and develop expertise to inform scrutiny, legislation and debate that addresses key economic and societal challenges.

POST and ESRC will pilot the creation of a network of Thematic Research Leads (TRLs) in support of this work.

TRLs will be mid-career researchers embedded part-time in the hubs, bringing their academic expertise and experience of working with research evidence to the policy, research and analysis work that is carried out across Parliament.

These positions, if proven, may ultimately become highly influential and prestigious roles at the heart of Parliament, somewhat akin to the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisers, but shaped for a parliamentary context.

The TRLs that POST and ESRC will appoint as part of this pilot will help to shape the development of this new approach to evidence engagement in Parliament. They will help to ensure that:

  • thematic policy hubs take a strategic, forward-looking, evidence-informed approach to engaging with policy areas
  • the best available research evidence feeds into the committees, libraries and POST
  • networks and connections between Parliament and the wider research community are strengthened

TRLs will be mid-career researchers who conduct the role of TRL part-time: three days a week (0.6FTE), whilst retaining their substantive academic post the remaining two days a week.

POST and ESRC will launch this pilot at the end of 2022, with three TRLs appointed to join pilot policy hubs in Parliament from January 2023 in the following areas:

  • Climate and Environment
  • International Affairs and Defence
  • Parliament, Public Administration and Constitution.

Funding for the TRL positions will be provided by ESRC.

Throughout 2023, these three TRLs will establish ways of working and inform the future development of these roles and the policy hubs.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said:

I am delighted to launch Parliament’s Thematic Research Lead Network, which will help Parliament to develop stronger links with the UK’s world-leading research institutions. Evidence is critical in helping parliamentarians to scrutinise and respond effectively to the key issues of the day – whether that is the threat of climate change or the cost of living crisis. This project will create a step change in delivering the evidence needed to help parliamentarians play their part in tackling these issues.

Adam Afriyie MP, Chair of the POST Board, said:

POST has been building bridges between the research community and Parliament for over 30 years. I am delighted to support the launch of the TRLs, which marks the start of a new kind of partnership between Parliament, ESRC and the wider research community. Parliament is most effective when it has access to the best available research evidence. The TRLs will help to ensure that science and evidence supports Parliament’s key functions of legislation, scrutiny and debate, and in that way help all Members to deliver more for their constituents.

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of the ESRC said:

The Thematic Research Leads build on nearly a decade of ESRC support for social science advice and knowledge exchange between the academic community and the UK Parliament. These mid-career researchers will provide impartial, expert research and advice on key topics — including climate change, international affairs and defence and constitutional issues — to help Parliament improve outcomes for citizens, society and the economy. Our ambition is that these roles strengthen the connection between policymaking and research communities and generate new knowledge and insights on effective policy collaboration.

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