UCL Public Policy


Engaging with policy Dr Ben Noble

Ben talks about chance encounters side comments, and unexpected puzzles in Public Policy work

Ben Noble

22 June 2019

I enjoy public policy engagement partly because of the element of the unknown. Chance encounters, side comments, and unexpected puzzles have the chance of resulting in something meaningful and impactful. My policy engagement work began at the end of 2017.

I gave a talk at King’s College London on my research into the State Duma – the lower chamber of Russia’s national-level parliament.

At the end of the talk, somebody from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) approached me to say they were keen to get me in to talk about my research findings further with their colleagues. The following exchange of emails between the FCDO contact and me allowed us to develop trust and a rapport – and to learn more about what insight I could bring to analysts and officials in Whitehall.

A few months after my talk at King’s, I delivered a presentation at the FCDO on my research to a mixture of research analysts and officials working on UK policy relating to Russia. This wasn’t just a one-way process of me imparting information:

I learned about how these non-academic stakeholders viewed questions in their own way – something which made me see some of my own material in an entirely new light. The visit also gave me a better sense of the policy landscape of Whitehall, and to which other units it might be worth reaching out.

Indeed, my post-talk networking led to further engagements, such as ad hoc policy briefings and joining a panel discussion on threats in the lead up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Though you can plan a strategy for the people you want to meet, you have to be ready to take advantage of moments when opportunities present themselves, such as bumping into someone in the hall on your way to a meeting with somebody else. Have a plan, by all means, but be ready and willing to change the plan as new opportunities arise. The serendipity of policy engagement can be exhilarating.

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