Policymaking process explained
This outline of the policymaking process helps you to decide the most appropriate method of engagement and the best time to make that first contact with your target audience. Find out about departmental policymaking, the legislative process, Areas of Research Interest and how the various parliamentary bodies work.
How does UK Government work?
The government runs the country and has responsibility for developing and implementing policy and for drafting new laws. The government is usually formed by the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons at a general election. It is headed by the Prime Minister, who appoints government ministers.
The central British government is made up of 24 departments, each of which manages specific policy areas, such as: Work and Pensions, Health and Social Care, Science, Innovation and Technology, and Transport. Read the full list of government departments, agencies, and public bodies.
Each department is led by Secretary of State and a team of ministers. Each minister has a specific portfolio (list of responsibilities within their department); for example, Jesse Norman MP is the Minister for Decarbonisation and Technology within the Department for Transport.
Securing the attention of ministers can have fantastic results, as they hold a great deal of policymaking power. However, choosing how to engage with them is extremely important; ministers are busy and have many other stakeholders and multiple demands competing for their time.
When developing policies, the government will issue green papers, and then white papers, before finally introducing draft legislation to Parliament. Green papers are published by government departments to prompt a discussion on a given policy area, with proposals still at a formative stage. The department will invite external stakeholders to give their input so the government better understands the area they are legislating in. This can be a fruitful stage for you to mobilise your research. By contrast, white papers are issued as statements of policy, and often set out firm proposals for legislative changes.
To see which areas the government is currently inviting evidence on, view our Consultation Tracker.
In an effort to engage more with academics and researchers, the government has published ARIs for all departments (aside from the Treasury). These documents provide a list of the research questions that the department is currently looking at. As they explicitly ask for scientific evidence, researchers may find ARIs as a more appropriate avenue through which to communicate their research evidence to government. You can access all departmental ARIs on the Government website. We have identified the ARI questions that have the most potential for input from research using longitudinal population studies in our ARI Tracker.
How do the different parliamentary bodies work?
Parliament does not just refer to the body of MPs who make final policymaking decisions. Its main function is to examine what the Government is doing and to vote on new laws, taxation rules, and to debate key issues. But supporting parliamentarians to make informed decisions on these matters is an ecosystem of committees, libraries, and research offices.
The House of Commons is formed of elected Members of Parliament. MPs are primarily focused on serving the constituents of the locality they represent, but this involves participating in debates on a huge range of topics. By raising an issue in the House of Commons, MPs can bring it to the attention of the press and the public, as well as the Government.
There are several forms of debate in the Commons. The main one is to discuss and vote on possible new laws. This guide on the legislative process provided on the Parliament website walks you through the process by which a bill becomes law in detail.
By reaching out to parliamentarians, you can engage with bills before Parliament if they are of relevance to your research. Here you can find a full list of bills currently going through Parliament. The best times to engage with bills is during their most substantive debate stages, which in both the Commons and the Lords tends to be Second Reading, Committee Stage, and Report Stage. The best way to contact a parliamentarian with your expertise about a bill is to email them – check out our Templates and guidance section for advice on how to construct an email.
Other debates include Oral Question sessions. These occur every day the Commons is sitting and let MPs question government ministers on issues their department is dealing with. The department being questioned changes on a cycle. Individual MPs can also bring forward their own topics for debate, if selected. Find upcoming parliamentary business for both the Commons and the Lords. The business for any given week is finalised on the preceding Thursday.
The Lords is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons. It is made up of unelected Peers. This is a topic of debate, but many Peers are appointed for their public service and sector-specific expertise. As such, Peers can have an exceptional knowledge and motivation towards certain policy areas. Several are world-leading social and biomedical scientists.
Debates in the Lords are similar to the Commons. They can discuss legislation or other pertinent policy areas. Given their increased number and position as a secondary chamber, it can be easier to engage with Peers than MPs. The Parliament website has a dedicated guide on how to engage with the House of Lords. This includes examples of previous collaboration between Lords and external organisations to bring about change.
APPGs are informal cross-party groups of MPs and Peers. There are over 700 APPGs, each with a focus on a different topic area or country, which are all listed on the UK Parliament website register of APPGs. They are run by and for parliamentarians to use, though many choose to involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities.
Some APPGs are more active than others. Many hold extensive inquiries, write significant reports, and hold oral evidence sessions alongside calls for written evidence. It is worth engaging with APPGs if you have the capacity for two reasons. Firstly, you are more likely to have your evidence picked up here than in formal parliamentary bodies. Secondly, they provide good opportunities to engage directly with parliamentarians, and their outputs can be picked up here by either House or the Government if deemed significant and timely enough.
APPG events are all free and open to the public. They will be advertised on the website of the APPG, which can always be found by searching the Group’s name online. The website will also have a contact address for the APPG, which you can email to send on your research or to ask to be added to their mailing list so you are kept updated of new developments.
POST provides research briefings to parliamentarians with a focus on scientific areas. They have a longer-term view in relation to their research than many other parliamentary bodies, considering issues that may become more important in future years.
POST research tends to fit into four streams:
- Biology and Health
- Energy and Environment
- Physical and Digital Science
- Social Science
POST actively seeks engagement from academics on the research briefings they are developing. The POST work programme details the topics they are looking into and how to contribute as an expert. Securing your evidence in POST briefings serves as proof that, by extension, your research is important to the policymaking process and has made its way into Parliament.
Similar to POST, the libraries have teams of researchers who provide written briefings for parliamentarians to use and publish briefing notes. However, they tend to focus on upcoming debates or current issues and can be commissioned by parliamentarians to provide information on topics of relevance. The libraries publish their briefing notes online. If possible, it can be advantageous to build relationships with parliamentary librarians because they may turn to you for information for briefings related to your research.
- How Government works on the Government website
- Government Departments, agencies and public bodies
- UK Devolution explainer
- Scottish Government Explainer
- Holyrood (Scottish Parliament) Explainer
- Welsh Government Explainer
- Senedd (Welsh Parliament) Explainer
- Northern Ireland Executive Explainer
- Stormont (Northern Ireland Assembly) Explainer