Quick – what’s the difference between parliament and government?
If, like me, this question makes you mimic a quizzical puppy – imagine sitting in one of the beautiful meeting rooms in the Scottish Parliament while this is Q.1 in our pop quiz introduction to the Academic Engagement with Parliament workshop.
Thankfully none of the other scientists were leaping up in their chairs to answer either!
Yesterday I had the very good fortune to attend a brilliant workshop run by SPICe (a part of Scottish Parliament responsible for research briefings and information). The aim of the workshop was to get academics engaging more with the parliament and the policy making process.
The answer, by the way, is that the government runs the country and the parliament serves the country by holding the government to account. It’s a remarkably simple answer that I hope was buried somewhere in the back of my brain but just an example of one of the ways I realised how poor I am at policy-engagement!
One of my big take home messages from yesterday was that Parliament does desperately want to engage with us, but we academics tend to wait in our ivory tower for somebody to come calling at its base. I often accuse the public of not seeking out scientific information when they have a question so imagine my shame (In Glaswegian parlance: it gie me a right riddie) when I realised I’m just as guilty of this when it comes to engaging with policy.
Transparency is important for the Scottish Parliament and their Bills are all available at each stage, with many calls for feedback throughout the process. The government also declares its plan for the year and any bills it will propose at regular intervals (usually September). Why do I never check this to see if there’s anything our team should be feeding into?
And it’s impossible to visit the Scottish Parliament without talking about how beautiful it is. It’s a truly amazing building, designed to reinforce the ideals of transparency and accountability for the people.
Whether quirk of architectural psychology or just the joy of having actually learned something, I came away from yesterday feeling inspired and enthusiastic about policy in a way I haven’t felt since my PhD days.
If you ever get a chance to attend one of SPICes workshops (or equivalent in your country) I would recommend it completely. (And I didn’t think the coffee was that bad . . . )