The Politics of Evidence-Based Policymaking: ANZSOG talks

This post introduces a series of related talks on ‘the politics of evidence-based policymaking’ (EBPM) that I’m giving as part of larger series of talks during this ANZOG-funded/organised trip.

The EBPM talks begin with a discussion of the same three points: what counts as evidence, why we must ignore most of it (and how), and the policy process in which policymakers use some of it. However, the framing of these points, and the ways in which we discuss the implications, varies markedly by audience. So, in this post, I provide a short discussion of the three points, then show how the audience matters (referring to the city as a shorthand for each talk).

The overall take-home points are highly practical, in the same way that critical thinking has many practical applications (in other words, I’m not offering a map, toolbox, or blueprint):

  • If you begin with (a) the question ‘why don’t policymakers use my evidence?’ I like to think you will end with (b) the question ‘why did I ever think they would?’.
  • If you begin by taking the latter as (a) a criticism of politics and policymakers, I hope you will end by taking it as (b) a statement of the inevitability of the trade-offs that must accompany political choice.
  • We may address these issues by improving the supply and use of evidence. However, it is more important to maintain the legitimacy of the politicians and political systems in which policymakers choose to ignore evidence. Technocracy is no substitute for democracy.

3 ways to describe the use of evidence in policymaking

  1. Discussions of the use of evidence in policy often begin as a valence issue: who wouldn’t want to use good evidence when making policy?

However, it only remains a valence issue when we refuse to define evidence and justify what counts as good evidence. After that, you soon see the political choices emerge. A reference to evidence is often a shorthand for scientific research evidence, and good often refers to specific research methods (such as randomised control trials). Or, you find people arguing very strongly in the almost-opposite direction, criticising this shorthand as exclusionary and questioning the ability of scientists to justify claims to superior knowledge. Somewhere in the middle, we find that a focus on evidence is a good way to think about the many forms of information or knowledge on which we might make decisions, including: a wider range of research methods and analyses, knowledge from experience, and data relating to the local context with which policy would interact.

So, what begins as a valence issue becomes a gateway to many discussions about how to understand profound political choices regarding: how we make knowledge claims, how to ‘co-produce’ knowledge via dialogue among many groups, and the relationship between choices about evidence and governance.

  1. It is impossible to pay attention to all policy relevant evidence.

There is far more information about the world than we are able to process. A focus on evidence gaps often gives way to the recognition that we need to find effective ways to ignore most evidence.

There are many ways to describe how individuals combine cognition and emotion to limit their attention enough to make choices, and policy studies (to all intents and purposes) describe equivalent processes – described, for example, as ‘institutions’ or rules – in organisations and systems.

One shortcut between information and choice is to set aims and priorities; to focus evidence gathering on a small number of problems or one way to define a problem, and identify the most reliable or trustworthy sources of evidence (often via evidence ‘synthesis’). Another is to make decisions quickly by relying on emotion, gut instinct, habit, and existing knowledge or familiarity with evidence.

Either way, agenda setting and problem definition are political processes that address uncertainty and ambiguity. We gather evidence to reduce uncertainty, but first we must reduce ambiguity by exercising power to define the problem we seek to solve.

  1. It is impossible to control the policy process in which people use evidence.

Policy textbooks (well, my textbook at least!) provide a contrast between:

  • The model of a ‘policy cycle’ that sums up straightforward policymaking, through a series of stages, over which policymakers have clear control. At each stage, you know where evidence fits in: to help define the problem, generate solutions, and evaluate the results to set the agenda for the next cycle.
  • A more complex ‘policy process’, or policymaking environment, of which policymakers have limited knowledge and even less control. In this environment, it is difficult to know with whom engage, the rules of engagement, or the likely impact of evidence.

Overall, policy theories have much to offer people with an interest in evidence-use in policy, but primarily as a way to (a) manage expectations, to (b) produce more realistic strategies and less dispiriting conclusions. It is useful to frame our aim as to analyse the role of evidence within a policy process that (a) we don’t quite understand, rather than (b) we would like to exist.

The events themselves

Below, you will find a short discussion of the variations of audience and topic. I’ll update and reflect on this discussion (in a revised version of this post) after taking part in the events.

Social science and policy studies: knowledge claims, bounded rationality, and policy theory

For Auckland and Wellington A, I’m aiming for an audience containing a high proportion of people with a background in social science and policy studies. I describe the discussion as ‘meta’ because I am talking about how I talk about EBPM to other audiences, then inviting discussion on key parts of that talk, such as how to conceptualise the policy process and present conceptual insights to people who have no intention of deep dives into policy theory.

I often use the phrase ‘I’ve read it, so you don’t have to’ partly as a joke, but also to stress the importance of disciplinary synthesis when we engage in interdisciplinary (and inter-professional) discussion. If so, it is important to discuss how to produce such ‘synthetic’ accounts.

I tend to describe key components of a policymaking environment quickly: many policy makers and influencers spread across many levels and types of government, institutions, networks, socioeconomic factors and events, and ideas. However, each of these terms represents a shorthand to describe a large and diverse literature. For example, I can describe an ‘institution’ in a few sentences, but the study of institutions contains a variety of approaches.

Background post: I know my audience, but does my other audience know I know my audience?

Academic-practitioner discussions: improving the use of research evidence in policy

For Wellington B and Melbourne, the audience is an academic-practitioner mix. We discuss ways in which we can encourage the greater use of research evidence in policy, perhaps via closer collaboration between suppliers and users.

Discussions with scientists: why do policymakers ignore my evidence?

Sydney UNSW focuses more on researchers in scientific fields (often not in social science).  I frame the question in a way that often seems central to scientific researcher interest: why do policymakers seem to ignore my evidence, and what can I do about it?

Then, I tend to push back on the idea that the fault lies with politics and policymakers, to encourage researchers to think more about the policy process and how to engage effectively in it. If I’m trying to be annoying, I’ll suggest to a scientific audience that they see themselves as ‘rational’ and politicians as ‘irrational’. However, the more substantive discussion involves comparing (a) ‘how to make an impact’ advice drawn from the personal accounts of experienced individuals, giving advice to individuals, and (b) the sort of advice you might draw from policy theories which focus more on systems.

Background post: What can you do when policymakers ignore your evidence?

Early career researchers: the need to build ‘impact’ into career development

Canberra UNSW is more focused on early career researchers. I think this is the most difficult talk because I don’t rely on the same joke about my role: to turn up at the end of research projects to explain why they failed to have a non-academic impact.  Instead, my aim is to encourage intelligent discussion about situating the ‘how to’ advice for individual researchers into a wider discussion of policymaking systems.

Similarly, Brisbane A and B are about how to engage with practitioners, and communicate well to non-academic audiences, when most of your work and training is about something else entirely (such as learning about research methods and how to engage with the technical language of research).

Background posts:

What can you do when policymakers ignore your evidence? Tips from the ‘how to’ literature from the science community

What can you do when policymakers ignore your evidence? Encourage ‘knowledge management for policy’

See also:

European Health Forum Gastein 2018 ‘Policy in Evidence’ (from 6 minutes)

https://webcasting.streamdis.eu/Mediasite/Play/8143157d976146b4afd297897c68be5e1d?catalog=62e4886848394f339ff678a494afd77f21&playFrom=126439&autoStart=true

 

See also:

Evidence-based policymaking and the new policy sciences

 

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Talks and blogs: ANZSOG trip

I took a trip to New Zealand and Australia as a guest of ANZSOG. Here is a list of dates and titles for each talk. There is usually a link in the name of the city to the advert for the talk. There is also a link in each title to a blog post on the talk. Some of the talks were recorded and I will add them when I get them. In the meantime, there is also a selection of tweets at the end to prove that I’m not making up the trip.

  1. Auckland 11 October University of Auckland (mostly academic audience) Why don’t policymakers listen to my evidence (powerpoint)
  2. Auckland 12 October Auckland Art Gallery (NZ public managers from Auckland council and State sector agencies)  Teaching evidence-based policy to fly: transferring sound policies across the world (not recorded)
  3. Auckland 12 October Working with complexity – evidence based practice and practice based evidence (including Auckland Co-design Lab and Southern Initiative, roundtable discussion of this kind of thing)
  4. Wellington October 15 The politics of evidence-based policy: the expectations of academics and policymakers and ways to meet in the middle (Policy Project, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, discussion based on this kind of old post, new post and powerpoint presentation )
  5. Wellington 15 October (200 NZ civil servants from Wellington-based departments and agencies) Prevention is better than cure: so why aren’t we doing more of it? (ppt)
  6. Wellington 16 October Victoria University (academic audience) The politics of evidence-based policy
  7. Wellington 17 October Victoria University (academic audience) Blogging and reaching out (see discussion of previous event and Q. Should PhD students blog? A. Yes)
  8. Melbourne 18 October (Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria State Government) The politics of evidence-based policy making (DPC)
  9. Sydney UNSW 19 October Why don’t policymakers listen to your evidence? (ppt presentation then roundtable on impact – videos below)
  10. Canberra (ANU) 22 October Taking lessons from policy theory into practice (lecture and discussion). Powerpoint here. Audio (skip to 2m30) (or right click download or dropbox link
  11. Canberra (ANU) 22 October podcast ‘Why prevention policies fail
  12. Canberra (UNSW) 23 October Why might policymakers listen to your evidence? (PhD workshop, discussing elements of a ppt I used for the SGSSS and this powerpoint presentation that I’ve used with UK and Scottish government audiences and in Wellington)
  13. Brisbane 24 October University of Queensland Theory and Practice: How to Communicate Policy Research beyond the Academy
  14. Brisbane 25 October University of Queensland Evidence-based policymaking and the new policy sciences (see ppt and article with Chris Weible)

UQ isn’t really a big tweety place, so here is a picture of a lovely tree there:

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Epistemic versus bargaining-driven policy learning

There is an excellent article by Professor Claire Dunlop called “The irony of epistemic learning: epistemic communities, policy learning and the case of Europe’s hormones saga” (Open Access). It uses the language of ‘policy learning’ rather than ‘evidence based policymaking’, but these descriptions are closely related. I describe it below, in the form I’ll use in the 2nd ed of Understanding Public Policy (it will be Box 12.2).

Dunlop (2017c) uses a case study – EU policy on the supply of growth hormones to cattle – to describe the ‘irony of epistemic learning’. It occurs in two initial steps.

First, a period of epistemic learning allowed scientists to teach policymakers the key facts on a newly emerging policy issue. The scientists, trusted to assess risk, engaged in the usual processes associated with scientific work: gathering evidence to reduce uncertainty, but always expressing the need to produce continuous research to address inevitable uncertainty in some cases.  The ‘Lamming’ committee of experts commissioned and analysed scientific evidence comprehensively before reporting (a) that the use of ‘naturally occurring’ hormones in livestock was low risk for human consumers if administered according to regulations and guidance, but (b) it wanted more time  to analyse the carcinogenic effects of two ‘synthetic compounds’ (2017c: 224).

Second, a period of bargaining changed the context. EU officials (in DG Agriculture) responded to European Parliament concerns, fuelled by campaigning from consumer groups, which focused on uncertainty and worst-case scenarios. Officials suspended the committee’s deliberations before it was due to report and banned the use of growth hormones in the EU (and the importation of relevant meat).

The irony is two-fold.

First, it results from the combination of processes: scientists, operating in epistemic mode, described low risk but some uncertainty; and policymakers, operating in bargaining mode, used this sense of uncertainty to reject scientific advice.

Second, scientists were there to help policymakers learn about the evidence, but were themselves unable to learn about how to communicate and form wider networks within a political system characterised by periods of bargaining-driven policy learning.

dunlop 2017c picture

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Managing expectations about the use of evidence in policy

Notes for the #transformURE event hosted by Nuffield, 25th September 2018

I like to think that I can talk with authority on two topics that, much like a bottle of Pepsi and a pack of Mentos, you should generally keep separate:

  1. When talking at events on the use of evidence in policy, I say that you need to understand the nature of policy and policymaking to understand the role of evidence in it.
  2. When talking with students, we begin with the classic questions ‘what is policy?’ and ‘what is the policy process’, and I declare that we don’t know the answer. We define policy to show the problems with all definitions of policy, and we discuss many models and theories that only capture one part of the process. There is no ‘general theory’ of policymaking.

The problem, when you put together those statements, is that you need to understand the role of evidence within a policy process that we don’t really understand.

It’s an OK conclusion if you just want to declare that the world is complicated, but not if you seek ways to change it or operate more effectively within it.

Put less gloomily:

  • We have ways to understand key parts of the policy process. They are not ready-made to help us understand evidence use, but we can use them intelligently.
  • Most policy theories exist to explain policy dynamics, not to help us adapt effectively to them, but we can derive general lessons with often-profound implications.

Put even less gloomily, it is not too difficult to extract/ synthesise key insights from policy theories, explain their relevance, and use them to inform discussions about how to promote your preferred form of evidence use.

The only remaining problem is that, although the resultant advice looks quite straightforward, it is far easier said than done. The proposed actions are more akin to the Labours of Hercules than [PAC: insert reference to something easier].

They include:

  1. Find out where the ‘action’ is, so that you can find the right audience for your evidence. Why? There are many policymakers and influencers spread across many levels and types of government.
  2. Learn and follow the ‘rules of the game’. Why? Each policymaking venue has its own rules of engagement and evidence gathering, and the rules are often informal and unwritten.
  3. Gain access to ‘policy networks’. Why? Most policy is processed at a low level of government, beyond the public spotlight, between relatively small groups of policymakers and influencers. They build up trust as they work together, learning who is reliable and authoritative, and converging on how to use evidence to understand the nature and solution to policy problems.
  4. Learn the language. Why? Each venue has its own language to reflect dominant ideas, beliefs, or ways to understand a policy problem. In some arenas, there is a strong respect for a ‘hierarchy’ of evidence. In others, they key reference point may be value for money. In some cases, the language reflects the closing-off of some policy solutions (such as redistributing resources from one activity to another).
  5. Exploit windows of opportunity. Why? Events, and changes in socioeconomic conditions, often prompt shifts of attention to policy issues. ‘Policy entrepreneurs’ lie in wait for the right time to exploit a shift in the motive and opportunity of a policymaker to pay attention to and try to solve a problem.

So far so good, until you consider the effort it would take to achieve any of these things: you may need to devote the best part of your career to these tasks with no guarantee of success.

Put more positively, it is better to be equipped with these insights, and to appreciate the limits to our actions, than to think we can use top tips to achieve ‘research impact’ in a more straightforward way.

Kathryn Oliver and I describe these ‘how to’ tips in this post and, in a forthcoming article in Political Studies Review, use a wider focus on policymaking environments to produce a more realistic sense of what individual researchers – and research-producing organisations – could achieve.

There is some sensible-enough advice out there for individuals – produce good evidence, communicate it well, form relationships with policymakers, be available, and so on – but I would exercise caution when it begins to recommend being ‘entrepreneurial’. The opportunities to be entrepreneurial are not shared equally, most entrepreneurs fail, and we can likely better explain their success with reference to their environment than their skill.

hang-in-there-baby

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Emotion and reason in politics: the rational/ irrational distinction

In ‘How to communicate effectively with policymakers’, Richard Kwiatkowski and I use the distinction between ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ cognitive shortcuts ‘provocatively’. I sort of wish we had been more direct, because I have come to realise that:

  1. My attempts to communicate with sarcasm and facial gestures may only ever appeal to a niche audience, and
  2. even if you use the scare quotes – around a word like ‘irrational’ – to denote the word’s questionable use, it’s not always clear what I’m questioning, because
  3. you need to know the story behind someone’s discussion to know what they are questioning.*

So, here are some of the reference points I’m using when I tell a story about ‘irrationality’:

1. I’m often invited to be the type of guest speaker that challenges the audience, it is usually a scientific audience, and the topic is usually evidence based policymaking.

So, when I say ‘irrational’, I’m speaking to (some) scientists who think of themselves as rational and policymakers as irrational, and use this problematic distinction to complain about policy-based evidence, post-truth politics, and perhaps even the irrationality of voters for Brexit. Action based on this way of thinking would be counterproductive. In that context, I use the word ‘irrational’ as a way into some more nuanced discussions including:

  • all humans combine cognition and emotion to make choices; and,
  • emotions are one of many sources of ‘fast and frugal heuristics’ that help us make some decisions very quickly and often very well.

In other words, it is silly to complain that some people are irrational, when we are all making choices this way, and such decision-making is often a good thing.

2. This focus on scientific rationality is part of a wider discussion of what counts as good evidence or valuable knowledge. Examples include:

  • Policy debates on the value of bringing together many people with different knowledge claims – such as through user and practitioner experience – to ‘co-produce’ evidence.
  • Wider debates on the ‘decolonization of knowledge’ in which narrow ‘Western’ scientific principles help exclude the voices of many populations by undermining their claims to knowledge.

3. A focus on rationality versus irrationality is still used to maintain sexist and racist caricatures or stereotypes, and therefore dismiss people based on a misrepresentation of their behaviour.

I thought that, by now, we’d be done with dismissing women as emotional or hysterical, but apparently not. Indeed, as some recent racist and sexist coverage of Serena Williams demonstrates, the idea that black women are not rational is still tolerated in mainstream discussion.

4. Part of the reason that we can only conclude that people combine cognition and emotion, without being able to separate their effects in a satisfying way, is that the distinction is problematic.

It is difficult to demonstrate empirically. It is also difficult to assign some behaviours to one camp or the other, such as when we consider moral reasoning based on values and logic.

To sum up, I’ve been using the rational/irrational distinction explicitly to make a simple point that is relevant to the study of politics and policymaking:

  • All people use cognitive shortcuts to help them ignore almost all information about the world, to help them make decisions efficiently.
  • If you don’t understand and act on this simple insight, you’ll waste your time by trying to argue someone into submission or giving them a 500-page irrelevant report when they are looking for one page written in a way that makes sense to them.

Most of the rest has been mostly implicit, and communicated non-verbally, which is great when you want to keep a presentation brief and light, but not if you want to acknowledge nuance and more serious issues.

 

 

 

 

*which is why I’m increasingly interested in Riker’s idea of heresthetics, in which the starting point of a story is crucial. We can come to very different conclusions about a problem and its solution by choosing different starting points, to accentuate one aspect of a problem and downplay another, even when our beliefs and preferences remain basically the same.

 

 

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Some rubbish cultural references for lecturers

Reblogged to coincide with all those tweets from lecturers realizing that they are getting old and their cultural references are ancient or inappropriate.

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

As an ageing lecturer, I often find that my cultural references generally fall flat with late teenage/ early 20s students. Still, I persevere because I forget which ones are completely pancake, which ones still work if you explain them a little bit, and which ones work again because there has been a film remake. So, here is a repository to help me remember:

Things that still just about work

The Matrix seems to work for just about everything, which means that it works for nothing (‘I remember we talked about it, but what was the point again?’)

matrix-2

A JFK scene sort of works as a vague reference to ‘the whole system’ (but undermines regression analysis of discrete variables)

Joe Pesci JFK the system

Mr Robot might work – eventually – if you don’t have to subscribe to Amazon to get it

mr-robotThings that don’t work

Don’t refer to a ‘sliding doors moment‘ in British politics unless you…

View original post 266 more words

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We are recruiting a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Stirling

I am the pre-interview contact point and these are my personal thoughts on that process, which blend background information and some helpful advice. This advice is designed to mimic – as far as possible – the conversation we might have if you knew me and called me up for an informal conversation. If I’m doing it right, no candidate will be disadvantaged by having no personal or other connection to the University before submission. There is also an update at the end.

Please see our Vacancy page for the details and ‘further particulars’ (FPs). The lectureship is almost certainly an ‘open ended’ contract and we do not have a ‘tenure-track’ system in which you need to prepare for a key hurdle while in post.

There are 10 politics staff in our division, so you will have the chance to play an important part of a group which is small enough to act collectively.

Why do we make reference to ‘feminist or post-colonial approaches’ in the FPs?

We now have a 5 women/ 5 men balance but almost all of our staff are white European. The latter sends one signal about our recruitment to date, but we hope that our FPs send another. We are not interested in projecting the sense that we support any staffing imbalances that currently exist. 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 people of colour from applying, signal that we have had some success in recruiting from a subject pool in which there is (I think) a relatively good gender balance, and signal 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. However, if you reach interview stage, we really should talk. This post is no substitute for more in-depth questions from a small group of candidates about to take the final step.

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. Therefore, if you find it useful, but have some advice on how to make it better, please let me know.

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 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. You can, for example, influence its research direction (as a group, we hold regular 90 minute research workshops for that purpose) and make key contributions to our teaching programme reviews. If so, what would you say?
  • 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.
  • There is a lot of advice out there about how to write a cover letter, including describing your teaching and research philosophies. Some of it might be universally applicable, but beware advice geared (for example) towards a US market in which the assumptions and requirements can be very different. I tend to be quite ‘practical’ when reading them at the first stage (as one of several people doing the shortlisting). I am looking for efficient ways to identify who meets/ does not meet the criteria listed in the FPs and, to be honest, at this stage I am more interested in the ‘nuts and bolts’ issues on things like publication record and the specific courses you have taught (topic, size, duration of experience, etc.) than your wider philosophy. My colleague from the Faculty across the lake, Dr Peter Mathews, also describes his process here:

and here

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?’ (then perhaps ‘Why this division?’) is almost always 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. Try not to depend too much on our website though (just in case it’s out of date in some respects).

  • 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 major 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, for example, help you interview via Skype).

  • We recommend keeping the presentation compact, to show that you can present complex information in a concise and clear way. If in doubt, keep it short. Presentations are usually a mix of what you do in research and what you will contribute in a wider sense to the University.
  • Almost all of the interview panel will not be in the audience for your presentation (I’ll be the likely exception), and they will not be briefed before your interview. So, treat them as separate exercises for separate audiences.
  • The usual interview panel format at this level is five members: one subject specialist from the Division (me), one other member of the Faculty (not necessarily from our division), the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Prof Richard Oram), a senior manager of the University (in the chair), and a senior academic in another Faculty (for example, Dean of Natural Sciences Prof Maggie Cusack).
  • So, it is possible that only 1 member of your panel will be a specialist in Politics. This means that (at the very least) you need to describe your success – in your cover note, CV, and interview – 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 or ISQ! Or, if you prefer, you would have to explain why you would publish somewhere more appropriate.

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 usually 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 – p.a.cairney@stir.ac.uk – and then phone or Zoom if you prefer.

Good luck!

Update

I’ve spoken with a few candidates so far, and here are some things that come up fairly regularly. I’m more direct/ frank on the phone, but you can still get the idea here:

  1. I’m telling potential applicants that it’s not really me they need to impress. Instead, I help them think about how to frame their CV and cover note in relation to (a) what they are good at and (b) what we need. The answer to the ‘why Stirling’ question is often about the good fit between candidate and position.
  2. I’m describing the difference between immediate needs (in a team of about 10) and longer term benefits. For example, it would be good to describe your contribution to learning across many degree subjects, but better to project that you could organise and teach on at least one of our four sub-honours modules (British Isles, Ideologies, Comparative, Political Thinkers) or take on the 3rd year methods course, which is currently, the biggest job of our departing SL. You wouldn’t actually teach/ coordinate more than one, but the ability to do so gives us an idea of your experience (and the difference between someone who has done it or would be doing it for the first time). Another example is research. Interdisciplinarity is great. I am a convert and a big fan. However, more immediately, we need you to show us how you would boost our Unit of Assessment’s submission to the REF.
  3. People occasionally wonder aloud in some way if I’m doing all I can to recruit a woman of colour. Instead, I’m trying to do one small thing to address our context, which can be simplified as follows: (a) if we provide a generic statement of the post and a pro forma on equality and diversity, we often find that about 3/4 of the applicants are men (and almost all of the people contacting me directly are men); (b) if we project just a little bit of self awareness, about half of the applicants are women. The last time we advertised this specific post, more than 3/4 of applicants were men and the shortlist of five was all men.  This time, I expect 50/50. I’m not confident about how to encourage a more ‘level playing field’ for people of colour as effectively, so I’d appreciate any sensible suggestions.
  4.  I have never heard any senior manager rule out the best candidates for immigration reasons.
  5. It’s not cheating to send me an email

See also:

Some older advice about interviews

Previous posts on our recruitment

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