Although policy is a relatively new function at the BSI, our members show a huge support and appetite for our activities in this area to date. At the BSI Congress last December, a lunchtime session on Brexit proved incredibly popular, with over 500 attendees. The most common questions and resulting discussion points were around how our members can have their views heard in high-level policy discussions and what impact any one individual can make.
What is policy?
Policy involves influencing decision-makers and providing guidance on a given topic. Health or research policy therefore means engaging with topics important to these areas and trying to affect decisions.
In many instances, engagement with policy begins by contacting a Member of Parliament or other stakeholder. Obviously, Brexit is a topic ripe for policy work and the BSI’s Policy and Public Affairs team has been working hard to ensure that the interests of our members and the key needs of immunological community are heard in the ongoing debates. For example, since Brexit, the BSI has attended a number of parliamentary events, responded to numerous consultations and met with or made contact with many MPs, including Ministers sitting at the most senior level. You can read more in the ‘Brexit briefcase’ on our website.
Policy at the BSI
The BSI has a dedicated Policy and Public Affairs team responsible for providing independent advice and guidance for government and policymakers and information for our members and the public. We do this through several mediums including letters to MPs, responding to consultations, developing reports and face-to-face meetings. We strive to support our members’ interests and are always interested in hearing about policy areas that are most relevant to immunologists. To give you an example, subjects we have worked on recently include Brexit, the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, vaccines and the science budget. You can get in touch with our team using the contact details here to discuss specific policy topics or for general information about our work – we are always keen to hear from BSI members!
How to engage with your MP ... for immunologists
One of the greatest barriers facing immunologists who want to get engaged with policy is the misconception that an individual alone cannot make a difference. While the work of our team is definitely benefiting the cause, policy does profit significantly from a ‘many messengers’ approach and getting more of our members independently engaged, and putting out a similar message to us, is one of our key strategic aims. In other words, an individual can have a significant impact on the wider message. This is something we have seen in many instances since the referendum; for instance, in the autumn budget, the chancellor announced the government’s commitment to 3.2% GDP on R&D investment – this is something that a number of organisations (including the BSI) and individual researchers had been requesting for several months.
Also, it is important to remember that MPs are elected to represent his/her constituents’ views on issues important to them – they want to hear from you and it is their job to listen to your opinions. Additionally, several MPs have science and health at the top of their priority list (for example, those that sit on relevant select committees), so will be pleased to have evidence on-hand to support their points in parliament.
To help you with taking your first policy steps, the BSI has produced a new toolkit to provide you with a ‘how to’ guide to contacting and engaging with your MP on a given topic. In the toolkit, you will find information on best ways to contact your local MP, a template letter you can use, tips for how to ensure your communications have impact, as well as, key resources you can reference for additional information.
The toolkit is free to download from the BSI website – we hope that you will find it useful. Please do let us know if you use it and, if you are successful in securing a meeting with your MP, our policy team will be only too happy to provide further guidance and up-to-date figures and information to help you make the most of the opportunity.
Policy & Public Affairs Manager, BSI
The 'how to' guide to contacting and engaging with your MP is now available to download from our website.