Published on 16 October 2019
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Bennett Prospect Prize: Writing a great submission

Michael Kenny, Director of the Bennett Institute, writes on what it takes to deliver a great public policy essay.

This is the second year in the life of the Bennett Institute/Prospect prize competition. The main aim of this award is to showcase the thinking of some of our most able early career policy researchers and professionals as we invite them to share their ideas on the major challenges of our turbulent times. This prize reflects our commitment to bring some of the most important findings and insights generated by rigorous research into the worlds of policy and politics.

The subject for this year’s competition is ‘Which single public health intervention would be most effective in the UK?’

Questions associated with public health and the importance of well-being have steadily been working their way up the agenda in a variety of countries across the globe. And whilst both of these domains have a clear relationship with health and social care policy, our sense is that the challenges associated with health inequality, the conditions and implications of mental and physical health, and the potential for preventative interventions, span a wide range of policy concerns and areas – reaching also into education, transport, infrastructure, the environment and beyond. We invite essays which explore public health in any of these domains.

What makes a particularly good entry to a competition like this is a question we are often asked.

Whilst there is no single formula we would offer in response, here are our reflections on the pieces we liked most from last year’s competition. The following points are worth bearing in mind:

  • The best entries were written in a concise, clear and jargon-free fashion. The prize has been established to support the effective communication of ideas, concepts and evidence, so make sure that this is reflected in the manner of your writing.
  • Establish clearly at the outset what is the problem which you are exploring, and make sure that you convey how your own analysis brings a different insight or perspective on it.
  • Ensure your essay has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s nearly always the case that the most effective pieces of writing have a structure which supports the development of a compelling argument.
  • Remember that this is a policy competition: what are the tools you would propose to implement your policy? Policy-making isn’t just about government, it might also encompass the work and actions of businesses, community groups, media outlets and politicians, or any combination of these things and more. Think creatively about approaches and methods of implementation.
  • Write in your own style but avoid the soapbox. Remember that you want your policy to appeal to a cross-section of political opinion, so avoid being too zealous or dogmatic.
  • Remember finally, that public policy is ultimately about people – their lives, experiences and problems, and interventions that might address some or all of these. Data, statistics and evidence are all vital tools of the trade for the policy researcher, but they do not of their own accord convey the human aspects of the issue you are looking at. A story, an example or two, or a case study, might help your reader to connect with what you are writing about in ways that tables and graphs cannot do, on their own.

To be clear, these are merely some of the ingredients you might want to include in the final bake of your submission. They do not amount to anything like a recipe.

We look forward hugely to reading all of this year’s entries, and urge you to help us by spreading the word about this unique early career opportunity.

Mike Kenny
Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

Submissions for the Bennett Prospect Prize are open until 31 December 2019.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.


Professor Michael Kenny

Inaugural Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

Professor Kenny is the Inaugural  Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. Biography Before he arrived in Cambridge, Michael held positions at: Queen’s University, Belfast; the University of Sheffield,...

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