Interesting internship

With Nesta which is ‘an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.’

Career Spotlight: Policy, or, can a scientist work in social science?

Dr Jane Evans, Policy and Research Officer at Barnardo’s, came to speak at last week’s Career Spotlight.  Much of what Dr Evans spoke about, although of course specific to that organisation, can be applied to other subject area charities.

How did you get into policy work?

Jane did a PhD in Education Policy at the IoE but decided that an academic career, with its RAE/REF emphasis, was not something she wanted to pursue.  She also wanted her work to have a visible impact and felt that policy would be a sector where that could happen.  She found her job quite quickly, having specialised in disengaged children during her PhD.

What sort of work are you involved with?

An example of a project Jane has been involved with is the campaign to re-instate the Education Maintenance Allowance.  This meant talking to various members of government, young people and other lobby groups such as the Association of Colleges.  Although the EMA hasn’t been reinstated, David Laws is interested in, for example, possibly giving free school meals to some young people at Sixth Form, which might help a little.

Her role is both internal and external.  Internal in that she has to provide data and information to other departments within the charity – for example data on the Barnardo’s-run Sure Start childrens’ centres to the Business Development team for them to better bid to run other centres.  External in bringing credible data and qualitative information to government to persuade them to change direction.

Day-to-day work will depend on the projects she is working on, but will likely include fieldwork, surveying young people, transcribing recordings, inputting information into NVivo, or meetings with civil servants or the other lobbyists.

The organisation is constantly checking its mission and making sure that its work matches its mission.

Projects are either initiated in response to what government is talking about and where the charity thinks it can persuade; or from government itself asking the charity to comment on a particular idea.  Sometimes there is a possible conflict when, for example, the charity needs to be critical but still acknowledges quite a lot of funding from local authorities (for the Sure Start centres etc).

How might you get into these roles?

Demonstrate commitment and motivation to the sector or organisation by, for example, doing an internship, taking part in a campaign.  Even if the campaign is for one charity and you end up applying to another, it would still demonstrate interest and passion.

Don’t forget that many organisations have branches in the four UK countries, which all have different legislatures.  There may be opportunities in places other than London.

Skills required:

  • Analysis
  • Communication – written, oral: persuasiveness, confidence in working with civil servants
  • Research, but not the pure research one finds in academia.  Instead, this is more ‘instrumental’ and much quicker
  • Passion and conviction rather than subject knowledge

It is easier to see how humanities or social science researchers could match the profile: scientists would need to be able to demonstrate how they can change their approach – you are not just measuring, but effecting change.

Growth areas are in monitoring and evaluation work.

Further resources

See for more resources – use the tags ‘policy’ ‘think tank’ or even ‘public affairs’.  Also, search ‘PPP careers blog’ for The Careers Group’s Peace, Politics and Policy blog.