Policy and social research
Research, develop and deliver policy in different types of organisation.
Working in this sector offers a wide range of opportunities, including influencing, creating, researching or delivering policy at local, national or intergovernmental level, or supporting the work of political organisations. Working in politics can involve lobbying, gathering information on policy and administration to support political activity.
A degree in relevant subjects is required for entry into many of the roles in this section, and in some cases a relevant postgraduate qualification can be essential.
What’s it like?
You’ll need to be a highly organised, confident team player, with well-developed skills of persuasion, a sound understanding of political systems and a wide-ranging grasp of current affairs.
You should be good at analysing, synthesising and communicating complex information. Excellent research and numeracy skills and the ability to use IT effectively are also important.
The focus of your work will depend on the type of organisation, as well as your actual role. Think about which area of policy work best suits your interests, skills and motivation. Ask yourself:
Do you want to be involved in the process of government? Look into public sector roles, especially central and local government, where you’ll be researching, planning and developing services, and advising elected officials such as MPs on policy, planning and development.
Are you committed to advancing a particular cause? Look into roles with charities, campaign groups and pressure groups, where you’ll be aiming to influence and inform opinion, and building relationships with government and the media.
The routes into this field are many and varied and there is a lot of mobility. As your skills and interests develop, and your expertise grows, you will be able to move between employers and even change the focus of your work: from the public to the private sector, from a consultancy to a think tank, from UK to international policy.
Follow the links below for profiles of occupations where policy work is involved:
Find out more about Civil Service recruitment on our blog.
How can I get experience?
Policy and social research are competitive fields. Work experience. volunteering, internships and building a network in the sector will increase your chances of securing a position.
Consider volunteering for a charity, political party, or MP.
Student societies can also be a valuable way to gain experience. There are several at Edinburgh that are relevant including The Buchanan Institute and ones for all of the major political parties in the UK.
Work experience in Government can be harder to find. For example, the Civil Service Fast Stream only offers their Summer Diversity Internship Programme.
Some local councils may offer internships or summer work experience. Use the Government website to find local council contact details.
There are several think tanks based in Edinburgh, including Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, which may offer work experience opportunities.
Are there graduate opportunities available?
Yes - it is worth checking regularly and putting in the research to find out what is on offer.
There are graduate schemes with a focus on policy or social research with organisations like Cancer Research UK, CharityWorks (a UK-wide charity graduate scheme), The Civil Service and the Scottish Government.
Where to find vacancies
In addition to those mentioned in the previous section, other sources of opportunities can be places such as Think Tanks, Trade Unions, Charities and consultancies. Further information on these can be found below.
National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) - Britains largest independent social research organisation. Conduct research for a variety of organisations and government.
Civil Service Fast Stream - recruits for their Social Research pathway.
Charity Job - Jobs board for charities.
Jobs.ac.uk - Jobs board for higher education social research roles. Also advertises paid PhD opportunities.
Research Job Finder - Jobs board advertising a range of roles in research and insights.
Local Government Jobs - Jobs board for all local governments and councils in England & Wales.
Global Go To Think Tank Index Reports – Website contains yearly reports on the global landscape of think tanks. Includes lists of Think Tanks by region and area of research.
Policy Exchange - a leading UK think tank. An educational charity developing and promoting new policy ideas with the aim of delivering better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.
The Buchanan Institute - Edinburgh's first and Scotland's only student-led think tank. Provides opportunities for students to get involved in researching and writing policy proposals.
The Centre for Scottish Public Policy - an independent think-tank that aims to promote the development of public policy in Scotland by providing new ways of thinking for political institutions. Students and graduates pursuing a career in this sector can get help with CVs and covering letters, and through the new online mentoring tool.
Reform Scotland - an independent public policy 'think tank', aiming to inform and influence the public policy debate in Scotland by researching and publishing reports and papers, issuing briefing notes and regular updates, arranging seminars, lectures and other public events. Their website also has a lot of very useful links to other think tanks, political and media sources.
David Hume Institute - an independent Scottish think tank. Their mission is to increase understanding of the economy and contribute to a prosperous, sustainable, inclusive and fair Scotland.
Scotland's Futures Forum - an increasingly important organisation, helping to promote new ideas and stimulate public policy debate.
Atlantic-community.org - online foreign policy think tank focusing on transatlantic relations. Offers opportunities to have work published and advertises internships and vacancies.
European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research - an intergovernmental organisation, affiliated to the United Nations, which specialises in the study of all areas of social welfare policy within Europe. The website provides information about the centre, its staffing structure and current areas of research, as well as a range of publications and policy briefs.
Chatham House - Royal Institute of International Affairs - a non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in London whose mission is to analyse and promote the understanding of major international issues and current affairs.
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) - the top business lobbying organisation in the UK on national and international issues. They work with the UK government, international legislators and policy-makers to help UK businesses compete effectively.
UK Parliament - provides some useful information about what lobbying is and how it is done.
Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) - co-ordinates, develops and articulates the views and policies of the trade union movement in Scotland. Advertises vacancies for affiliated unions as well as STUC positions.
Trades Union Congress (TUC) - as well as in national newspapers, unions advertise vacancies on their websites. Links to all the affiliated unions can be found on the TUC website.
Edinburgh University Students' Association (SA) - active involvement in student union activities (as well as in the workplace) while at university is good grounding for applying for policy work in this sector.
Careers Parliament - advertises a wide range of jobs working for Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), either at Holyrood or in a local office.
Working for an MP (w4mp) - advertises jobs to work with individual MPs, but also for political parties and charities. Includes voluntary opportunities for work experience.
Individual political parties will also advertise vacancies through their own websites.
Local Government Association (LGA) - the LGA is a voluntary lobbying organisation, acting as the voice of the local government sector and representing all LAs in England and Wales. Vacancies are advertised on the website.
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) - is the representative voice of Scottish local government and also acts as the employers’ association on behalf of all Scottish councils. Part of COSLA's remit is to influence the formulation of policies to ensure their implementation delivers on local priorities and policies.
The site has a link to myjobscotland, the recruitment portal advertising local government jobs across all Scottish LAs. Register to receive job alerts by email.
Many organisations working in these areas will offer a variety of services so keep an open mind when you are job searching. You could be working for a management consultancy or a communications consultancy that offer services to a broad range of clients, a specialist consultancy, or in the public or third sector. If an organisation offers integrated accounts, for example managing Public Affairs and PR for clients then you have the opportunity to gain experience of, or exposure to, both. Graduate schemes can be available with larger companies, but internships and entry-level positions also are a common route into these areas and constitute good experience and a chance to build your career.
Public Affairs Board - The Public Affairs Board is the new, unified body for the industry. Includes a member directory to find organisations working in the industry and industry insights.
Public Affairs Network - provides information about lobbying (as well as other aspects of policy work), careers advice and job vacancy adverts from a diverse range of organisations.
The Resource Centre has a comprehensive directory of lobbying and public affairs, with links to information including listings of UK public affairs consultancies, experts on European Affairs and freelance consultants. It also contains information about recruitment consultancies, training course providers and think tanks, together with details of monitoring services, information providers, polling and research services.
Blake Stevenson - offers research and consultancy in social and economic development including social inclusion, access to opportunities, lifelong learning, work and life balance, and more. The website has a careers section and vacancies.
KPMG - a large organisation involved in public policy consultancy. They work with central government, local authorities, housing associations, police authorities, the NHS, colleges and more to help deliver major change, improve performance and drive financial efficiency. A major graduate recruiter, the website has a very good careers section.
Rocket Science - a consultancy committed to improving the quality of life of disadvantaged individuals, groups and communities, which works with public, private and third-sector clients.
They specialise in the areas of employability, learning and skills, social inclusion, economic development and regeneration, youth issues and funding solutions. Vacancies are advertised on the website.
SQW - an independent consultancy in sustainable economic and social development. The recruitment section of the website offers careers advice and lists vacancies.
Tribal - works with over 2,500 public sector organisations, providing a range of management consulting and professional support services. The website has a careers and vacancies section.
APCO Worldwide - UK - an international award-winning integrated communications consultancy. The team of consultants are drawn from media, business, political and NGO backgrounds. Very informative website with a careers section. Offers internships.
Citigate Dewe Rogerson (CDR) - an international award-winning consultancy offering many client services, including a specialist public policy division. An informative website, also provides details of a designated career contact.
Grayling - a global organisation with offices throughout the UK, including Edinburgh, Grayling is one of Scotland's leading public affairs consultancies, working with clients from the public, private and voluntary sectors across a wide range of areas. The website has a careers section.
Greenhaus - operating only in Scotland, they employ only experienced and expert consultants.
Weber Shandwick - a global public relations and communications leader, with a global network of public relations practitioners and a client roster including many of the world's most recognised brands. They provide a wide range of services. The website has a careers section and they offer internships.
PR Companies do similar work to consultancies, although they tend to have a different approach. Experience in a PR agency can be a good starting point for moving into political consultancy. One such company, which has won awards for public affairs campaigns and lobbying is:
Pagoda PR - an independent Scottish public relations consultancy offering a full range of services including public affairs, community engagement, strategy development, research and evaluation. They have serviced campaigns to build political and public support for complex issues, community engagement and awareness raising programmes using print, broadcast and online media.
News Agencies can provide good grounding in the research and monitoring side of political strategy work, and a good test of whether you will enjoy these aspects of the work. For example:
News Direct - based in Edinburgh, this agency provides comprehensive public affairs support to clients by monitoring and reporting on parliamentary activities and delivering political awareness training. They also offer clients campaign, project and research support, and funnel parliamentary news relevant to clients and provide them with the skills to navigate the parliamentary system.
Science policy is defined as being an area of public policy which is concerned with the policies that affect the conduct of the science and research enterprise. This is often in pursuance of other national policy goals such as technological innovation, weapons development, healthcare and environmental monitoring. Science policy also refers to the act of applying scientific knowledge and consensus to the development of public policies. Science policy workers consider the ethical and political dimensions and how science and technology can best serve the public.
UK Research and Innovation - a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Brings together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. Advertises vacancies across all of its research councils.
Civil Service Fast Stream - recruits for their Science & Engineering pathway to work on science policy.
Council for Science and Technology - a non-departmental public body (NDPB), which advises the Prime Minister on science and technology policy issues. Jobs are advertised through the Civil Service jobs portal linked from their website.