Foreword – Dr Andew Connell
Throughout its existence, the Public Policy Institute for Wales offered opportunities for students and others to spend a short time with us as interns. These placements allowed the interns to develop their skills and understanding of evidence-based policy practice, while the PPIW benefited from the contribution that interns made to our work, and from the reflections on their experience that they shared with us.
The Wales Centre for Public Policy is now committed to building on this aspect of our predecessor’s work. We will be offering a range of initiatives such as secondments, fellowships, and PhD placements, to develop capacity for evidence based policy and practice among practitioners and academics, and especially Early Career Researchers. Our first Research Apprentice, Sarah Quarmby, joined us at the beginning of October: the Research Apprenticeship is an innovative annual programme designed to allow someone with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, or equivalent experience, to explore the prospect of an academic and/or practice career in public policy research by spending a year with us as a Research Assistant, with training and career development support.
Meanwhile, here are some reflections from Peiquan Lin, who spent some weeks with us in summer 2017 as part of her Masters studies. We are grateful to Peiquan both for the contribution that she made when she was here, and for sharing these thoughts with us. It is interesting and valuable to see how what is very familiar to us looks to someone coming in from a different environment.
As part of my programme, I had the opportunity to complete an eight-week exchange programme to study politics and public policy in the UK and undertake an internship at the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW).
Before my internship, I did not have a clear idea of what think tanks where, nor how they work, or how policy is made in a small devolved country like Wales. Working at the PPIW allowed me to see how this type of research institute provides evidence support to policy-makers and builds bridges between government and experts.
During my internship, I divided my time between four main activities:
- I collected and analysed data for a project looking at the future of regional economic development in Wales. This assignment is intended to support policymakers to better understand the relationship between regional economic development and public attitudes towards the European Union.
- Andrew (one of the PPIW staff members) and I attended a lunch meeting hosted by the Bevan Foundation, a Welsh think tank. The event was attended by policy actors from different sectors and professional backgrounds, including the civil service, research institutes, and political parties (for example from Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru). It allowed participants to network and share their expertise, research, and ideas about the future development of Wales.
- I attended a workshop on ‘shared services’ organised by the PPIW. Sharing services, like IT or customer support, is intended to reduce duplication across the public sector. The workshop brought together Welsh Government officials, Local Government representatives, and university researchers from Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, and Belfast. It allowed policymakers to talk with experts about how to share services effectively across the public sector.
- I also visited the National Assembly for Wales, where I watched a plenary session and heard ministers give speeches. This allowed me to see how ministers attempt to persuade Members of the Welsh Assembly to support their policies.
My four weeks at the PPIW taught me first-hand how difficult it can be to find and interpret policy-relevant data. For example, searching for statistics on regional economic development in Wales made me realise how diverse the Welsh local authorities were, and required me to hypothesise about why neighboring areas might be so different.
I also learned that, in addition to written reports, it can be useful to organise a face-to-face meeting between policymakers and experts. These events, like the shared services workshop I attended, give government officials and researchers the opportunity to share ideas and work together to solve problems in a dynamic and immediate manner.
Finally, the PPIW let me experience a different working environment to that of for-profit companies. The staff at the PPIW love their jobs and are knowledgeable. I learned as much about policymaking in Wales from team meetings as I did just talking to colleagues in the tea room. My internship made me think about what it is that I enjoy doing, and what I want to do in the future.
If I’m honest, I still don’t know what my dream job would be after I graduate. I’m leaning heavily towards being a data analyst. I enjoy collecting and analysing information. I also like working to improve the way I present this information, for example by better managing my time and public speaking skills. Working in a public or university-based policy research institute may not be as cut-throat as working for a private company, but it brings its own challenges and excitement. Like me, you won’t find out if you’ll enjoy it until you give it a try.
Ultimately, words pale when I try to describe my experience at the PPIW. The staff are passionate, friendly and helpful. Any worries I had about working there quickly disappeared when I realised how kind and supportive the staff are. I wish them and all their future interns all the best for the years to come.
About the author: Peiquan Lin was born and raised in Xiamen, Fujian, China. She is a first year Masters’ student in the Bush School of Texas A&M University, majoring in Public Service and Administration.