Writing a Policy Consultation Response: A How To.

By: Rhianna Murgatroyd and Grace Spalton-Woods

We are two students in our second year of a Social Policy (BSc) degree at the university of Bristol, who chose to complete a work placement as part of our degree programme. We were very kindly taken on by Bristol Energy Network (BEN) in order to gain further experience of policymaking in a real-life setting, and to learn about the values of the company in order to help write a policy consultation to the governments Private Rental Sector document on their behalf. This blog post has been written with a view of sharing our experience of the Policy Consultation writing experience and to provide an insight for people interning with BEN in the future.

“Although the process was new to us and challenging, the work we were doing felt incredibly rewarding as we were working with members to improve the experience for people renting privately in the local community”.

The Beginning

We began our internship with BEN in early October and it initially started with a zoom meeting with Emilia Melville and Rebecca Windemer, who have provided us with immense support throughout. We were asked what we hoped to take away from the experience, and both Rebecca and Emilia thought writing a response for the PRS consultation would be best tailored to ensuring we had the most fulfilling time at BEN.

Following the initial meeting, we met separately with Rebecca to clarify what BEN were expecting of us, and how to go about achieving these goals together. It was after this call that we began our Consultation Response writing journey. The next step we had to take was to contact a number of BEN members to gain different perspectives on the consultation response in order to write a response that covered the wider community involved with the PRS.

POLICY CONSULTATION: A primary step in the policymaking process allowing members of the public and organisations to dissect the proposed policy prior to implementation.

We were apprehensive about contacting members outside of the immediate BEN team, as we were used to meeting with Rebecca and Emilia and our initial reaction was that such companies would not have enough time to devote to two university students. However, we were pleasantly surprised. The members we contacted such as The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) were incredibly helpful not only contributing to the document and sending us resources, but by inviting us to meetings as we made progress with the process of writing our response. 

“Despite having to complete our internship work remotely through a pandemic, BEN have been incredibly supportive. The work environment with the company has been nothing but pleasant and inspiring”.

The process

Research

When we initially saw the consultation, we read through the document carefully and highlighted any areas we did not understand, as well as areas we thought were particularly relevant to BEN. Next, we met with Rebecca and Dave to gain clarity on ideas and identify questions we misunderstood, to enable us to have the whole context of the project. Once we had the questions, we deemed most relevant to BEN’s response to the consultation (mostly focusing on fuel poverty and prices) we carried out further research. We firstly went online looking up definitions of key terms related to energy and the PRS, looking at any other government documents that had mentioned the PRS, after a couple of meetings between ourselves as well as with Rebecca, we decided that it would be beneficial to direct our research towards the strategies of other energy companies. We looked at the mission statements of other companies, keeping in mind any current ideas surrounding energy that were written about in order to be able to use these to aid our response. 

A couple of websites we thought were particularly beneficial to the research component of our process, were Community Energy England and CHEESE (Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Experts) which provided us with information about new technologies such as the thermal heat detector as a way to help combat heat loss in houses and therefore reduce fuel poverty. Carrying out our own research enabled us to explore these energy issues in more detail and gave us independence in our report which has provided us with valuable insight which we are able to use in completing our degrees. Another important element was being able to synthesise the information of a lengthy consultation in order to assess which parts are more crucial to BEN, which is a skill we were able to develop and can transfer to tasks we are required to carry out as part of our degree programme.

Top Tips:

  1. READ through the whole Policy Consultation document.
  2. BE SELECTIVE with the questions you choose to respond to: ensure they are relevant and in line with the goals the company you are writing on behalf of.
  3. CONDUCT THOROUGH research, look at multiple sources, spend time on this- having facts to support your response is fundamental.
  4. REACH OUT to people with different areas of expertise. Share your ideas, take onboard ideas of others in order to craft a varied response relevant to a wider audience.
  5. WRITE collaboratively and concisely- use formal language in short attention-grabbing sentences. We found google docs to be a useful tool, allowing for multiple people to have an input at once.

The Members

In order to write the most effective PRS consultation response on behalf of BEN, we compiled a document that was accessible by BEN and all its members having taken time to go through the PRS consultation and to select the questions we deemed most relevant to BEN. As concepts such as fuel poverty and energy provision at a national level as well as at the local level were new to us, we conducted some personal research over a few days in order to be able to fully comprehend the government document. The document we compiled was an introduction to who we were and what we were hoping to achieve, as well as a list of the questions we were aiming to tackle. We also decided with Rebecca that hosting a zoom meeting for any members interested in having an input to the response we were writing would be a great way to expand our knowledge and give depth to our answers.

              The document was sent out via email with a link to the zoom meeting, and the process had truly begun. Over the months of November and December we had weekly meetings with Rebecca to update her on our progress, as well as attending meetings with other member organizations such as Shelter and The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE).

Meetings

              As university students we are used to having to manage a number of deadlines and modules throughout the year, however the seminars we attend are usually no longer than two hours. Attending lengthy meetings in which relevant and pressing issues were discussed was a new experience for us and we found we really engaged with the content being discussed as it was incredibly relevant to the consultation response and the local community. Being able to work with people that are advocating for policies that ensure social justice was inspiring and helped us to apply the theoretical side of our degree to everyday life, something we have agreed on as an invaluable skill as our degree progresses.

              The first meeting that we attended was the BEN AGM, we were amazed by the number of people on the call and although we did not have the depth of knowledge at this stage to contribute it was amazing to be part of the experience.  We have since been a part of a number of different meetings during our time at BEN, including Energy Champions meetings and most recently for the project we are helping BEN to launch before our placement comes to an end- BEN’s 10-point plan. 

Link to BEN’s Private Rental Sector Policy Consultation Response: https://bristolenergynetwork.org/resource/4719/