Blog 4: Writing the POSTnote
The aim of a POSTnote is to inform Parliamentarians (MPs and Peers) about an important science topic that is relevant to current or upcoming policy decisions. It is also must be concise (only 4 pages!) as MPs and Peers have to a huge amount of different topics to get through. Finally, it must be comprehensible for a non-specialist audience, as the majority of Parliamentarians do not have a background in science, and therefore they rely on documents such as POSTnotes to inform their decisions about key policy issues. For a topic as broad and complex as young people’s mental health, condensing the huge amount of information into a clear and concise POSTnote is a challenge!
During the first half of my internship I spoke to as many experts as possible in the area of Children’s Mental Health Services. I travelled across London to meet with people, sent a LOT of emails, and also held phone interviews. Every interview was different, and everyone had a lot of information that they wanted to get across. Some people were genuinely extremely upset at the current situation regarding children’s mental health services, citing lack of funding and organisational difficulties as some of the major issues they were facing. It was hard to hear what they described, and I felt it was a massive responsibility to accurately get across as much information as possible in the POSTnote. However, it would be impossible to condense all of the information into just 4-pages! Also, many people had conflicting opinions about the root of the problem and ways to improve the situation. Everyone wanted different things to be included in the note. I had to be able to look past individual agendas to find the information which would be most relevant to Parliamentarians.
During the writing of the POSTnote, it was essential to get advice from the other POST interns who were all at different stages of their internships. It was very helpful that we all shared an office (although it could get very loud when there were a few people conducting phone interviews at the same time!), so that we could give each other tips on the best ways to go about writing the POSTnote!
Luckily, I also had my supervisor to help me! My original draft was 8 pages long, and my supervisor helped me to cut it down to 4 pages. My POSTnote then underwent its first review. Two POST advisors gave feedback on the content and readability. Their major points were to clarify and further explain some of the sections of the note, to make sure that the non-specialist audience would be able to easily understand it. This involved adding a lot more words, so further cuts to the content had to be made! It was really hard deciding which sections to cut out of the note, knowing the importance of every sentence. But eventually, the note was ready for external peer-review! All of the experts I had interviewed had the chance to review what I had written, and make sure it was factually accurate and contained all of the relevant information. They offered a lot of further suggestions, including more things to add and cut. Finally, the director of POST had the final check, commenting on the final layout of the note and very precise grammar, and then finally my POSTnote was finished!
I had a really great time during my internship and learned absolutely loads! I would definitely recommend an internship at POST to any scientist interested in getting some experience in science policy!
All POSTnotes (including mine!) are publicly available, and can be found on POST’s website at http://www.parliament.uk/postnotes . My POSTnote is number 563 Mental Health Service Models for Young People.
Blog 1 Science and Parliament: http://www.bangscience.org/2017/07/internship-at-post-blog-1/
Blog 2 Engaging with Parliament: http://www.bangscience.org/2017/08/internship-at-post-blog-2/
Blog 3 Working in Parliament: http://www.bangscience.org/2017/09/internship-at-post-blog-3/