Monthly Archives: May 2017
This is a post for my talk at the ‘Politheor: European Policy Network’ event Write For Impact: Training In Op-Ed Writing For Policy Advocacy. There are other speakers with more experience of, and advice on, ‘op-ed’ writing. My aim is to describe key aspects of politics and policymaking to help the audience learn why they should write op-eds in a particular way for particular audiences.
A key rule in writing is to ‘know your audience’, but it’s easier said than done if you seek many sympathetic audiences in many parts of a complex policy process. Two simple rules should help make this process somewhat clearer:
- Learn how policymakers simplify their world, and
- Learn how policy environments influence their attention and choices.
We can use the same broad concepts to help explain both processes, in which many policymakers and influencers interact across many levels and types of government to produce what we call ‘policy’:
- Policymaker psychology: tell an evidence-informed story
Policymakers receive too much information, and seek ways to ignore most of it while making decisions. To do so, they use ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ means: selecting a limited number of regular sources of information, and relying on emotion, gut instinct, habit, and familiarity with information. In other words, your audience combines cognition and emotion to deal with information, and they can ignore information for long periods then quickly shift their attention towards it, even if that information has not really changed.
Consequently, an op-ed focusing solely ‘the facts’ can be relatively ineffective compared to an evidence-informed story, perhaps with a notional setting, plot, hero, and moral. Your aim shifts from providing more and more evidence to reduce uncertainty about a problem, to providing a persuasive reason to reduce ambiguity. Ambiguity relates to the fact that policymakers can understand a policy problem in many different ways – such as tobacco as an economic good, issue of civil liberties, or public health epidemic – but often pay exclusive attention to one.
So, your aim may be to influence the simple ways in which people understand the world, to influence their demand for more information. An emotional appeal can transform a factual case, but only if you know how people engage emotionally with information. Sometimes, the same story can succeed with one audience but fail with another.
- Institutions: learn the ‘rules of the game’
Institutions are the rules people use in policymaking, including the formal, written down, and well understood rules setting out who is responsible for certain issues, and the informal, unwritten, and unclear rules informing action. The rules used by policymakers can help define the nature of a policy problem, who is best placed to solve it, who should be consulted routinely, and who can safely be ignored. These rules can endure for long periods and become like habits, particularly if policymakers pay little attention to a problem or why they define it in a particular way.
- Networks and coalitions: build coalitions and establish trust
Such informal rules, about how to understand a problem and who to speak with about it, can be reinforced in networks of policymakers and influencers.
‘Policy community’ partly describes a sense that most policymaking is processed out of the public spotlight, often despite minimal high level policymaker interest. Senior policymakers delegate responsibility for policymaking to bureaucrats, who seek information and advice from groups. Groups exchange information for access to, and potential influence within, government, and policymakers have ‘standard operating procedures’ that favour particular sources of evidence and some participants over others
‘Policy community’ also describes a sense that the network seems fairly stable, built on high levels of trust between participants, based on factors such as reliability (the participant was a good source of information, and did not complain too much in public about decisions), a common aim or shared understanding of the problem, or the sense that influencers represent important groups.
So, the same policy case can have a greater impact if told by a well trusted actor in a policy community. Or, that community member may use networks to build key coalitions behind a case, use information from the network to understand which cases will have most impact, or know which audiences to seek.
- Ideas: learn the ‘currency’ of policy argument
This use of networks relates partly to learning the language of policy debate in particular ‘venues’, to learn what makes a convincing case. This language partly reflects a well-established ‘world view’ or the ‘core beliefs’ shared by participants. For example, a very specific ‘evidence-based’ language is used frequently in public health, while treasury departments look for some recognition of ‘value for money’ (according to a particular understanding of how you determine VFM). So, knowing your audience is knowing the terms of debate that are often so central to their worldview that they take them for granted and, in contrast, the forms of argument that are more difficult to pursue because they are challenging or unfamiliar to some audiences. Imagine a case that challenges completely someone’s world view, or one which is entirely consistent with it.
- Socioeconomic factors and events: influence how policymakers see the outside world
Some worldviews can be shattered by external events or crises, but this is a rare occurrence. It may be possible to generate a sense of crisis with reference to socioeconomic changes or events, but people will interpret these developments through the ‘lens’ of their own beliefs. In some cases, events seem impossible to ignore but we may not agree on their implications for action. In others, an external event only matters if policymakers pay attention to them. Indeed, we began this discussion with the insight that policymakers have to ignore almost all such information available to them.
Know your audience revisited: practical lessons from policy theories
To take into account all of these factors, while trying to make a very short and persuasive case, may seem impossible. Instead, we might pick up some basic rules of thumb from particular theories or approaches. We can discuss a few examples from ongoing work on ‘practical lessons from policy theories’.
Storytelling for policy impact
If you are telling a story with a setting, plot, hero, and moral, it may be more effective to focus on a hero than villain. More importantly, imagine two contrasting audiences: one is moved by your personal and story told to highlight some structural barriers to the wellbeing of key populations; another is unmoved, judges that person harshly, and thinks they would have done better in their shoes (perhaps they prefer to build policy on stereotypes of target populations). ‘Knowing your audience’ may involve some trial-and-error to determine which stories work under which circumstances.
Appealing to coalitions
Or, you may decide that it is impossible to write anything to appeal to all relevant audiences. Instead, you might tailor it to one, to reinforce its beliefs and encourage people to act. The ‘advocacy coalition framework’ describes such activities as routine: people go into politics to translate their beliefs into policy, they interpret the world through those beliefs, and they romanticise their own cause while demonising their opponents. If so, would a bland op-ed have much effect on any audience?
Learning from entrepreneurs
‘Policy entrepreneurs’ draw on three rules, two of which seem counterintuitive:
- Don’t focus on bombarding policymakers with evidence. Scientists focus on making more evidence to reduce uncertainty, but put people off with too much information. Entrepreneurs tell a good story, grab the audience’s interest, and the audience demands information.
- By the time people pay attention to a problem it’s too late to produce a solution. So, you produce your solution then chase problems.
- When your environment changes, your strategy changes. For example, in the US federal level, you’re in the sea, and you’re a surfer waiting for the big wave. In the smaller subnational level, on a low attention and low budget issue, you can be Poseidon moving the ‘streams’. In the US federal level, you need to ‘soften’ up solutions over a long time to generate support. In subnational or other countries, you have more opportunity to import and adapt ready-made solutions.
It all adds up to one simple piece of advice – timing and luck matters when making a policy case – but policy entrepreneurs know how to influence timing and help create their own luck.
On the day, we can use such concepts to help us think through the factors that you might think about while writing op-eds, even though it is very unlikely that you would mention them in your written work.
These are some short answers to some general questions that will likely arise in my oral evidence (22 May, 1.15pm) to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee inquiry called A stronger voice for Wales: engaging with Westminster and the devolved institutions.
Could you outline your area of research expertise?
I use theories of public policy to understand policymaking, focusing on particular areas such as the UK (and Scotland in particular), issues such as tobacco policy, and themes such as ‘the politics of evidence-based policymaking’ and policy learning or transfer.
Could you elaborate on the “Scottish approach” to policymaking?
There are several related terms, including the:
- ‘Scottish policy style’, which academics use to describe two policymaking reputations – (i) for consulting well with stakeholders while making policy, and (ii) for trusting public bodies to deliver policy.
- ‘Scottish model of policymaking’, described by former Permanent Secretary Sir John Elvidge, stressing the benefits of reducing departmental silos and a having a scale of policymaking conducive to cooperation (and the negotiation of common aims) between central government and the public sector.
- ‘Scottish Approach to Policymaking’ (described by former Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Housden), stressing key principles about how to describe the relationship between research/ policy delivery (‘improvement method’), communities and service users (an ‘assets based’, not ‘deficit focused’ approach), and central government/ public bodies/ stakeholders in policymaking and delivery (‘co-production’).
Each term describes a reputation or aspiration for policymaking, and you’ll tend to find in my published work (click the ‘PDF’ links) a healthy scepticism about the ability of any government to live up to these aims.
Also note that the Scottish style (as with discussions of Welsh policymaking) tends to be praised in comparison with a not-flattering description of UK government policymaking.
In relation to your comments around “size or scale” of Scottish Government, would similar traits be observed in policy-making in Wales and Northern Ireland, or indeed in other small political systems?
Yes. In fact, we have included a comparison with Wales in previous studies of ‘territorial policy communities’ (both have the ‘usual story of everybody knowing everybody else’) and the potential benefits of more consensual approaches to delivery (both display ‘less evidence of a fragmentation of service delivery organisations or the same unintended consequences associated with the pursuit of a top-down policy style’).
These size and scale issues have pros and cons. Small networks can allow for the development of trust between key people, and for policy coordination to be done more personally, with less reliance on distant-looking regulations. Small government capacity can also prompt over-reliance on some groups in policy development which, on occasion, can lead to optimistic plans (when doing interviews in Wales in 2006, the example I remember was homelessness policy). Smallness might also prompt overly romantic expectations about the ability of closer cooperation, on a smaller scale, to resolve policy conflict. Yet, we also know that people often have very fixed beliefs and strong views, and that politics is about making ‘hard choices’ to resolve conflict.
Could you explain the importance of personal relationships to policy-making and implementation?
I think they relate largely to psychology in general, and the specific potential effects of the familiarity and trust that comes with regular personal interaction. Of course, one should not go too far, to assume that personal relationships are necessarily good or less competitive. For example, imagine a room containing some people representing the Welsh Government and all the University Vice Chancellors. Sometimes, it will aid collective policymaking. Sometimes, the VCs would rather hold bilateral discussions to help them compete with the others.
To what extent are territorial policy communities too “cosy” with their respective Governments?
You’ll find in many discussions a reference to ‘the usual suspects’ and the idea of ‘capture’, to describe the assertion that close contact leads to favouritism from both sides. It is helpful to note that any policymaking system will have winners and losers. You can take this for granted in larger and more openly competitive systems, but have to look harder in smaller venues. We would need to avoid telling the same romantic story about Welsh consensus politics and, instead, to design ‘standard operating procedures’ to gather many diverse sources of evidence and opinion routinely.
Could you expand on the extent to which key UK policies impact on devolved policies?
Compared to many countries, the devolved UK governments have more separate arrangements. For example, ‘health policy’ is far more devolved than in, say, Japan (in which multiple levels make policy for hospitals).
Yet, there are always overlaps in relation to economic issues (the UK is largely responsible for devolved budgets, taxation, immigration, etc.), shared responsibilities in cross-cutting issues (such as fuel poverty), and the ‘spillover’ effects of UK policies.
The classic case of spillovers in Wales is higher education/ tuition fees policy, partly because so many staff and students live within commuting distance of the Wales/ England border. Each Welsh policy has been in response to, or with a close eye on, policy for England. There was also the case of NHS policy in the mid-2000s, where Welsh government attempts to think more holistically about healthcare/ public health were undermined somewhat by unflattering comparisons of England/ Wales NHS waiting times. In Scotland, these issues are significant, even if less pronounced.
To what extent is the multi-level nature of policy-making downplayed?
I’d say that it is not sufficiently apparent in any election campaign at any level. People don’t seem to know (and/ or care) about the divisions of responsibilities across levels of government, which makes it almost impossible to hold particular governments to account for particular policy decisions. It’s often not fair to hold certain governments to account for policy outcomes (since they are the result of policies at many levels, and often out of the control of policymakers) but we can at least encourage some clarity about their choices.
Could you expand on the “intergovernmental issues” you refer to in a recent article? Do you have any examples and how these were resolved?
I’d encourage you to speak with my Centre on Constitutional Change colleagues on this topic, since (for example) Professors Nicola McEwen and Michael Keating may have more recent knowledge and examples.
In general, I’d say that IGR issues have traditionally been resolved rather informally, and behind closed doors, particularly but not exclusively when both governments were led by the same party. Formal dispute resolution is far less common in the UK than in most comparator countries. Within the UK, the Scottish Government has not faced the same problem as the Welsh Government, which has faced far more Supreme Court challenges in relation to its competence to pass legislation in devolved areas. Yet, in the past, we have seen similar early-devolution examples of ‘fudged’ decisions, including on ‘free personal care’ in Scotland (it gained far more in the ‘write-off’ of council house debt than it lost in personal care benefits) and EU structural funds in Wales (when the UK initially refused to pass on money from the EU, then magically gave the Welsh Government the same amount another way).
Is there any evidence of devolved Governments and the UK Government learning from one another in terms of policy?
Not as much as you might think (or hope). When we last wrote about this in 2012, we found that the UK government was generally uninterested in learning from devolved policy (not surprising) and there was very little Scottish-Welsh learning (more surprising), beyond isolated examples like the Children’s Commissioner (and, at a push, prescription charging and smoking policy). I recently saw a powerpoint presentation showing very few private telephone calls between Scotland Wales, so perhaps it’s not so surprising!
In general, we’d expect most policy learning or transfer to happen when at least one government is motivated by a sense of closeness to the other, which can relate to geography, but also ideological closeness or a sense that governments are trying to solve similar problems in similar ways. Yet, the Scottish and Welsh governments often face quite different initial conditions relating to their legislative powers, integration with UK policy, and starting points (for example, they have very different education systems). So, we should not assume that they have a routine desire to learn from each other, or that there would be a clear payoff.
What is the likely impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on policy-making in the devolved nations?
I have no idea! The Scottish Government wants to use the event to prompt greater devolution in some areas (such as immigration) and secure the devolution of Europeanised issues (such as agriculture, fishing, and environmental policy).
We should see the practical effect of reduced multi-level policymaking in key areas (even though each government will inherit policies from their EU days) and there are some high profile areas in which things may have been different outside the EU. For example, the Scottish Government would have faced fewer obstacles to enacting its minimum unit price on alcohol (which relates partly to EU rules on the effect of pricing on the ability of firms from other EU countries to compete for market share).
We should also see some ‘stakeholder’ realignment, since interest groups tend to focus their attention on the venues they think are most important. It will be interesting to see the effects on particular groups, since only the larger groups (or the best connected) are able to maintain effective contacts with many levels of government.
What is your view on Whitehall departments’ understanding of devolution in Wales and Scotland?
The usual story is that: (a) London-based policy people tend to know very little about policy in Edinburgh or Cardiff (it’s also told about UK interest groups with devolved arms), (b) devolved-facing UK government units tend to have heroically small numbers of staff, and (c) there are few ‘standard operating procedures’ to ensure that devolved governments are consulted on relevant UK policies routinely. I can’t think of an academic text that tells a different story about the UK-devolved relationship.
That said, it’s difficult to argue that policymakers in Brussels know a great deal about Wales either, and the Cardiff-London train ticket is cheaper if you want to go somewhere to complain about being ignored.
How would you assess the success of stakeholder influence in policy making? What does this say about the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement?
I’d describe winners and losers. Perhaps we might point to a general sense of more open or consensual policymaking in the devolved venues, but also analyse such assumptions critically. In any system, you’ll find a similar logic to consulting with the usual suspects, often because they have the resources to lobby, the power to deliver policy, or the professional knowledge or experience most relevant to policy. In any system, you’ll struggle to measure stakeholder influence. If describing the benefits of more devolved policymaking, I’d find democratic/ principled arguments (about more tailored representation) more convincing than ‘evidence-based’ ones.
Do you have any views about whether powers over, for example, agriculture should go to London or to the devolved nations?
No. I’ll take my views on all constitutional matters to the grave.
I occasionally write blog posts on how we want to recruit new colleagues. The approach is based on four things that go beyond formal advertisements:
- Thinking about the social background of your likely pool of recruitment (some fields are more heavily dominated by white men than others)
- Designing the ‘further particulars’ and ‘essential criteria’ to not exclude people unintentionally.
- Signalling that you have thought about your current position (such as a white-male-heavy department) and don’t want to discourage women and people of colour from applying.
- Providing information that only a few people (with good networks and, therefore, the confidence to make contact) would get otherwise, via informal discussion.
Of course, there is always the risk that you look, to some, like you are engaging in some form of discrimination. I get the occasional question along the lines of, ‘should white men even bother applying?’ and I suspect I’d get more criticism if I weren’t a white male Professor, even though I’m just trying jump a fairly low bar, to say ‘please don’t be as discouraged as usual’ to some underrepresented groups.
However, for me at least, the potential benefits outweigh such risks, and I’ve seen some encouraging signs of impact in terms of applications (sometimes, male/ female applications are about 50/50, although I accept that I am applying optimism bias to small numbers).
This approach is now, in principle, part of our Athena SWAN commitment, although it won’t happen overnight. You can also find pockets of good practice in many Universities based, I reckon, on unusually high enthusiasm among key individuals (which is crucial to do something reasonably new).
However, here are some reasons why I think it won’t necessarily take off as an approach:
- It’s hard to integrate a relatively informal and personal discussion with formal HR requirements and procedures.
- If it’s not a routine part of the recruitment process, maybe no-one will ask for the blog post.
- Even if it becomes semi-routine, and someone asks for the post, it may not be forthcoming since we have enough to do, and some tasks seem less important or fall through the cracks.
- The payoff is difficult to measure, and help offset the cost.
So, it may stay (for some time) as something done by individuals who have a particular enthusiasm for this kind of communication. I’m not sure what would change this context – maybe a signal from some professional associations, or Athena SWAN guidance, that it’s a good thing, or maybe a groundswell of enthusiasm from an informal network of enthusiastic individuals.
Policy influence is impossible to find if you don’t know where to look. Policies theories can help you look in the right places, but they take time to understand.
It’s not realistic to expect people with their own day jobs – such as scientists producing policy-relevant knowledge in other fields – to take the time to use the insights it takes my colleagues a full-time career to appreciate.
So, we need a way to explain those insights in a way that people can pick up and use when they engage in the policy process for the first time. That’s why Chris Weible and I asked a group of policy theory experts to describe the ‘state of the art’ in their field and the practical lessons that they offer.
None of these abstract theories provide a ‘blueprint’ for action (they were designed primarily to examine the policy process scientifically). Instead, they offer one simple insight: you’ll save a lot of energy if you engage with the policy process that exists, not the one you want to see.
Then, they describe variations on the same themes, including:
- There are profound limits to the power of individual policymakers: they can only process so much information, have to ignore almost all issues, and therefore tend to share policymaking with many other actors.
- You can increase your chances of success if you work with that insight: identify the right policymakers, the ‘venues’ in which they operate, and the ‘rules of the game’ in each venue; build networks and form coalitions to engage in those venues; shape agendas by framing problems and telling good stories, design politically feasible solutions, and learn how to exploit ‘windows of opportunity’ for their selection.
Learn from ‘multiple streams’ analysis
My paper on the ‘multiple streams approach’ shows what happens in the absence of two things you might want to see: ‘rational’ and ‘evidence based’ policymaking which takes place in a policy cycle with linear stages. If you act according to that hope, you’ll likely say the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time. It would be better to adapt to the following implications of an agenda setting process in which framing is more important than evidence, and solutions chase problems (table 1).
Learn the meaning of timing and windows of opportunity
Most people would associate ‘timing’ with the idiom ‘be in the right place at the right time’. In agenda setting it means two more important things:
- Learning the right time to exploit emotional thinking in policymakers to help generate attention to a policy problem, not waiting for their attention to shift naturally.
- Producing policy solutions first, then waiting for the right time to attach them to problems. If a policy cycle existed, policymakers would identify a problem then spark of a series of stages, to select a solution, implement, and evaluate it. In the real world, policymaker attention often shifts before a feasible solution can be developed.
Learn from ‘policy entrepreneurs’
So, successful ‘policy entrepreneurs’ ‘lie in wait in and around government with their solutions at hand, waiting for problems to float by to which they can attach their solutions, waiting for a development in the political stream they can use to their advantage’ (Kingdon 1984: 165–6). Entrepreneurs are the elected policymakers or unelected influencers with the knowledge, power, tenacity and luck to be able to exploit ‘windows of opportunity’ when: attention rises to a problem, a feasible solution is available, and policymakers have the motive to select it.
Policy entrepreneurs seem to have particular skills or strategies, to frame issues well, build networks, and lead coalitions. However, Kingdon described them as ‘surfers waiting for the big wave’, which suggests that their environment is more important than their action. He was describing a large US political system in which different actors tended to be involved in different ‘streams’ or parts of policymaking (such as a President raising problems, and a bureaucracy coordinating solutions), no one was powerful enough to bring them together, and it took a lot of time for policy solutions to ‘soften’ or change enough to become acceptable to many actors in the system.
In modern studies, we can see some key differences: policymaking at a smaller scale seems to allow ‘entrepreneurs’ more opportunities to propose solutions and generate attention to problems; and, it seems possible to short-circuit the need to ‘soften’ policies by finding sympathetic audiences in different ‘venues’ or importing solutions that have a reputation for working elsewhere. Yet, most of MSA’s abstract insights remain ‘universal’, inviting us to adopt a counterintuitive strategy of producing solutions then chasing problems, and focus on framing and persuasion to reduce ambiguity and generate demand for evidence, rather than producing more and more evidence to reduce uncertainty in the hope that scientific evidence will win the day or speak for itself.
I am the pre-interview contact point and these are my personal thoughts on that process, which blend background information and some helpful advice.
The first two posts provide ‘open ended’ contracts. We are also seeking a postdoctoral researcher/ lecturer to work with me for 4.25 years on a Horizon2020 project. So, I’ll give some general advice on each, then emphasise some differences with the third post.
The politics staff in our division will be 10 following these appointments, so you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough to act collectively – to, for example, influence its research direction.
Why do we make reference to ‘gender, sexuality, and race’ in the FPs?
5 of our 7 permanent lecturers are men and all 7 are white. We are not interested in simply reinforcing the imbalances that are already there. So, we worded the further particulars to ‘signal’ that we have realistic hopes of producing a more diverse and gender-balanced short list. Usually, job adverts will have a pro-forma statement about equalities, but we are trying to go one step further to signal – albeit with rather subtle cues – that we have thought about this issue a bit more; that we’d like to expand our networks and the ways in which our staff approach the study of politics. We are trying to make sure that our current set up does not put off women or people of colour from applying, recruiting from a subject pool in which there is (I think) a relatively good gender balance, and signalling support for research topics that might help expand our current offering.
These notes are also there to address a potentially major imbalance in the informal side to recruitment: if you do not have the contacts and networks that help give you the confidence to seek information (on the things not mentioned in the further particulars), here is the next best thing: the information I’d give you on the phone. Still, if you reach interview stage, we really should talk.
We hope to make this kind of informal advice a routine part of the application process, as part of our commitment to innovative best practice and Athena SWAN.
Here are some tips on the application and interview processes.
The application process:
- At this stage, the main documents are the CV and the cover letter.
- You should keep the cover letter short to show your skills at concise writing. Focus on what you can offer the Division specifically, given the nature of our call and further particulars.
- Shortlisted candidates at the SL/ Associate Professor level will likely be established lecturers with a strong record on publications, income, and leadership – so what makes you stand out? Lecturers will be competing with many people who have completed a PhD – so what makes your CV stand out?
- Note that you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough (10 in Politics, as part of a larger Division with History) to act collectively – to, for example, influence its research direction (as a group, we hold regular 90 minute research workshops for that purpose).
- Focus on what you have already done when discussing what you will promise to do over the next five years. Those plans seem more realistic if there is already some sort of track record.
- We take teaching very seriously. Within our division, we plan an overall curriculum together, discuss regularly if it is working, and come to agreements about how to teach and assess work. We pride ourselves on being a small and friendly bunch of people, open to regular student contact and, for example, committed to meaningful and regular feedback. You might think about how you would contribute in that context. In particular, you should think about how you would deliver large undergraduate courses (in which you may only be an expert on some of the material) as well as the smaller, more specialist and advanced, courses closer to your expertise.
The interview process
By the interview stage, you should almost certainly have a conversation with me to make sure that you are well prepared. For example, here are the things that you really should know at that stage:
- The teaching and research specialisms of the division and their links to cross-divisional research.
- The kinds of courses that the division would expect you to teach.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to articulate why you want to come and work at Stirling. ‘Why Stirling?’ or ‘Why this division?’ is usually the first question in an interview, so you should think about it in advance. We recommend doing some research on Stirling and the division/ faculty, to show in some detail that you have a considered reply (beyond ‘it is a beautiful campus’). We will see through a generic response in a heartbeat and, since it is the first question, your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview. You might check, for example, who you might share interests with in the Division, and how you might develop links beyond the division (for example, the Centre for Gender & Feminist Studies in our school) or faculty (such as the Faculty of Social Sciences) – since this is likely to be a featured question too.
- Then you might think about what you would bring to the University in a wider sense, such as through well-established (domestic and international) links with other scholars in academic networks.
- Further, since ‘impact’ is of rising importance, you might discuss your links with people and organisations outside of the University, and how you have pursued meaningful engagement with the public or practitioners to maximise the wider contribution of your research.
The presentation plus interview format
In our system there tend to be presentations to divisional (and other interested) staff in the morning, with interviews in the afternoon. The usual expectation is that if you can’t make the date, you can’t get the job (although we can make accommodations to help you apply or interview via Skype).
- We recommend keeping the presentation compact, to show that you can present complex information in a concise and clear way. Presentations are usually a mix of what you do in research and what you will contribute in a wider sense to the University.
- The usual interview panel format at this level is five members: one subject specialist from the Division, one other member of the Faculty (not necessarily from our division), the Head of Faculty of Arts and Humanities, a senior manager of the University (in the chair), and a senior academic in another Faculty (by the time of interview you should know what these terms mean at Stirling).
- So, it is possible that only 1 member of your panel will be a subject specialist (in Politics). This means that (at the very least) you need to describe your success in a way that a wider audience will appreciate. For example, you would have to explain the significance of a single-author article in the APSR!
It sounds daunting, but we are a friendly bunch and want you to do well. You might struggle to retain all of our names (nerves), so focus on the types of question we ask – for example, the general question to get you started will be from the senior manager, and the research question from the divisional representative. There are often more men than women on the panel, and they are often all-white panels, but I hope that we are providing other more useful ‘signals’ about our commitment to equality and diversity.
I am happy to answer your questions. We can try email first – firstname.lastname@example.org – and then phone or skype if you prefer.
The Horizon 2020 post
I have described some key concepts in two separate posts, to give you an idea of our part of the larger project:
Please also note why we are offering a 4.25 year post: we want it to be a platform for your long term success. A lot of applicants will know that our research funding system has some unintended consequences: some people get grants and are bought out of teaching, others get more teaching in return, and many research fellows compete for very short term contracts with limited job security. This post should reduce those consequences: you and I would share my full teaching load, you would have the chance to co-author a lot of research with me (and we can both single author other pieces), and we would seek more opportunities for funding throughout. By the end of 2021, I hope that your CV will be impressive enough for you to think about applying for senior lecturing positions.
‘Know your audience’ is a key phrase for anyone trying to convey a message successfully. To ‘know your audience’ is to understand the rules they use to make sense of your message, and therefore the adjustments you have to make to produce an effective message. Simple examples include:
- The sarcasm rules. The first rule is fairly explicit. If you want to insult someone’s shirt, you (a) say ‘nice shirt, pal’, but also (b) use facial expressions or unusual speech patterns to signal that you mean the opposite of what you are saying. Otherwise, you’ve inadvertently paid someone a compliment, which is just not on. The second rule is implicit. Sarcasm is sometimes OK – as a joke or as some nice passive aggression – and a direct insult (‘that shirt is shite, pal’) as a joke is harder to pull off.
- The joke rule. If you say that you went to the doctor because a strawberry was growing out of your arse and the doctor gave you some cream for it, you’d expect your audience to know you were joking because it’s such a ridiculous scenario and there’s a pun. Still, there’s a chance that, if you say it quickly, with a straight face, your audience is not expecting a joke, and/ or your audience’s first language is not English, your audience will take you seriously, if only for a second. It’s hilarious if your audience goes along with you, and a bit awkward if your audience asks kindly about your welfare.
- Keep it simple stupid. If someone says KISS, or some modern equivalent – ‘it’s the economy, stupid’, the rule is that, generally, they are not calling you stupid (even though the insertion of the comma, in modern phrases, makes it look like they are). They are referring to the value of a simple design or explanation that as many people as possible can understand. If your audience doesn’t know the phrase, they may think you’re calling them stupid, stupid.
These rules can be analysed from various perspectives: linguistics, focusing on how and why rules of language develop; and philosophy, to help articulate how and why rules matter in sense making.
There is also a key role for psychological insights, since – for example – a lot of these rules relate to the routine ways in which people engage emotionally with the ‘signals’ or information they receive.
Think of the simple example of twitter engagement, in which people with emotional attachments to one position over another (say, pro- or anti- Brexit), respond instantly to a message (say, pro- or anti- Brexit). While some really let themselves down when they reply with their own tweet, and others don’t say a word, neither audience is immune from that emotional engagement with information. So, to ‘know your audience’ is to anticipate and adapt to the ways in which they will inevitably engage ‘rationally’ and ‘irrationally’ with your message.
I say this partly because I’ve been messing around with some simple ‘heuristics’ built on insights from psychology, including Psychology Based Policy Studies: 5 heuristics to maximise the use of evidence in policymaking .
Two audiences in the study of ‘evidence based policymaking’
I also say it because I’ve started to notice a big unintended consequence of knowing my audience: my one audience doesn’t like the message I’m giving the other. It’s a bit like gossip: maybe you only get away with it if only one audience is listening. If they are both listening, one audience seems to appreciate some new insights, while the other wonders if I’ve ever read a political science book.
The problem here is that two audiences have different rules to understand the messages that I help send. Let’s call them ‘science’ and ‘political science’ (please humour me – you’ve come this far). Then, let’s make some heroic binary distinctions in the rules each audience would use to interpret similar issues in a very different way.
I could go on with these provocative distinctions, but you get the idea. A belief taken for granted in one field will be treated as controversial in another. In one day, you can go to one workshop and hear the story of objective evidence, post-truth politics, and irrational politicians with low political will to select evidence-based policies, then go to another workshop and hear the story of subjective knowledge claims.
Or, I can give the same presentation and get two very different reactions. If these are the expectations of each audience, they will interpret and respond to my messages in very different ways.
So, imagine I use some psychology insights to appeal to the ‘science’ audience. I know that, to keep it on side and receptive to my ideas, I should begin by being sympathetic to its aims. So, my implicit story is along the lines of, ‘if you believe in the primacy of science and seek evidence-based policy, here is what you need to do: adapt to irrational policymaking and find out where the action is in a complex policymaking system’. Then, if I’m feeling energetic and provocative, I’ll slip in some discussion about knowledge claims by saying something like, ‘politicians (and, by the way, some other scholars) don’t share your views on the hierarchy of evidence’, or inviting my audience to reflect on how far they’d go to override the beliefs of other people (such as the local communities or service users most affected by the evidence-based policies that seem most effective).
The problem with this story is that key parts are implicit and, by appearing to go along with my audience, I provoke a reaction in another audience: don’t you know that many people have valid knowledge claims? Politics is about values and power, don’t you know?
So, that’s where I am right now. I feel like I ‘know my audience’ but I am struggling to explain to my original political science audience that I need to describe its insights in a very particular way to have any traction in my other science audience. ‘Know your audience’ can only take you so far unless your other audience knows that you are engaged in knowing your audience.
If you want to know more, see: