Department of Psychology PhD student, Elisabeta Militaru, completed a fellowship with the Cabinet Office entitled “Elections, Registration and Democracy Evidence Review”
I wanted to work with the Constitution Group Analysis (CGA) team at the Cabinet Office to improve my understanding of how research is conducted, applied to- or implemented into- public policy. The project I worked on relied on academic research which will be used to inform public policy. Overall, CGA provided me with an interdisciplinary view on social research practices which broadened my understanding of how social research can be used.
My main hope for the fellowship was to gain an understanding of how academic research can be used to inform public policy. I was also hoping to familiarise myself with the civil service work environment. The team helped me reach both aims and supported me throughout the fellowship.
My project at the Cabinet Office looked at the drivers and consequences of people’s trust in their governments, democracy and electoral processes. The main aim of the fellowship, which was successfully achieved, was to deliver a review of the existing research on political trust to inform public policy. The report drew from a variety of research areas and topics such as sociology, political sciences, psychology and statistics. The findings and conclusions highlighted in the report addressed the current public policy priorities. Throughout the fellowship, I have also undergone quality assessments of ongoing CGA projects to ensure that the deliverables of the team are accurate. The impact of my work was constantly assessed by the policy partner who commissioned my fellowship project. The report produced during my fellowship is now being used to inform the Defending Democracy Programme.
It took me around two weeks to settle in and be up to date with the regular meetings that the team had. Throughout this time, I attended the inductions and training sessions that provided me with the knowledge necessary to start addressing my main responsibilities. The workplace was extremely welcoming and very well structured which significantly helped me settle in. The division I worked in had weekly meetings to discuss the progress made by the teams and bi-weekly meetings to mingle and socialise. I also had regular meetings with my line manager to discuss work priorities. These regular meetings made the process of settling in and understanding the workplace environment very easy.
Throughout my time at the Cabinet Office, I attended a number of courses that outlined the responsibilities of civil servants, including the work produced by the research teams within government. I also learned about the structure of the government and the Cabinet Office. I attended courses on diversity and inclusion principles and on mental health in the workplace. I learned how to keep track of my progress and how to create regular check-ins to assess my progress, thus acquiring valuable and applicable time management and organisational skills.
My manager was also my project supervisor. She was extremely supportive throughout my time in the Cabinet Office. We had regular check-ins which enabled me to organise and plan the next steps of the project. She facilitated the communication with the policy team throughout the project and made sure we were on track. I particularly appreciated that I was able to voice any concerns I had regarding the project. Doing so significantly helped us to progress with ease throughout the project.
How my academic knowledge was utilised
I used my academic knowledge to create a methodological framework which ensured we approached the research question in a systematic manner. The report produced in my fellowship was built around understanding academic research – a task which I was able to complete with the skills I acquired during my graduate studies. The questions that we addressed required a particularly nuanced understanding of research findings – this is where my academic experience was most relevant. I was also able to bring in my experience in communicating timelines, capacity and setting the scope of the project. My presentation skills were also heavily used throughout the fellowship to communicate progress and findings to stakeholders.
The ‘added value’ has this fellowship brought to me
Firstly, the fellowship helped me understand how academic research is used in policy making. I strongly believe that all the future research projects that I will undergo will benefit from this knowledge. Secondly, the fellowship taught me how to keep track of my progress in a measurable way, deliver tangible outputs along the way and communicate the progress. In a similar vein, I have gained a better understanding of how to strategically allocate my resources to address and meet the aims of research projects. Lastly, I learned how to clearly and effectively communicate and liaise with individuals from different backgrounds, including policy makers, to meet the aims of a project. As the project I was working on was policy-facing, I interacted with policy makers regularly to ensure the project is reaching its aims.
My team was made up of social and economic researchers, yet everyone had a different background. This interdisciplinarity made me appreciate how valuable the insight from different perspectives is. In approaching social sciences questions, having different perspectives will provide with the breadth and depth of understanding of concepts that are needed to answer them.
In terms of transferrable skills and experiences I gained from working at the Cabinet Office I learned:
- How to quickly produce commissioned research under tight time frames
- How to communicate progress to policy makers and liaise with individuals from different backgrounds
- How to efficiently allocate resources and target the key project deliverable in order to meet the goals of the programme.
The impact this fellowship made to my research and future career
The fellowship made me reflect on what are the potential career routes for a social researcher and how academic research can be implemented and used in public policy. As a researcher, I now have a much better understanding of how research needs to be designed and presented to be effectively used in policy making.
Advice for students considering a fellowship
Talking to the company before starting the fellowship is a crucial step in the process – make sure you understand the role, responsibilities, and the structure of the team you are planning to join. Doing so will ensure that you will settle in more readily. Having regular check-ins with your manager to ensure that the project is progressing is extremely helpful. It’s also useful to communicate your expectations with regards to training and development early on to ensure you will be able to reach the goals before the end of the fellowship.
I had an amazing fellowship experience, the team I worked with was very welcoming and enabled me to develop my expertise all around.
I would definitely recommend it to others.