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Written by Professor Michael Kenny

Tips for winning the Bennett Prospect Prize

Michael Kenny, Director of the Bennett Institute, shares his thoughts on what makes a winning Bennett Prospect Prize entry.

Man videoing himself on mobile phone

The main aim of the Bennett Prospect Prize is to showcase the thinking of some of our most able early career policy researchers’ ideas on some of the existential challenges of our turbulent times. The scale of the prize - £10,000 - reflects our commitment to bringing some of the most important findings and insights generated by rigorous research within different disciplines to the attention of a wide, policy-engaged audience.

The question for this year’s prize is: “Is it possible to govern well in the age of populism?”

The nature of the threats posed by populism to representative democracy has been extensively debated. And now, in various countries, populist leaders are in governing positions, and have been required to handle the COVID-19 outbreak and deal with its enormous economic consequences.

Equally, what good governance now means for democratically elected governments and leaders operating in volatile political environments, and under pressure from populist attacks from across the ideological spectrum, is one of the key political questions of the age. In this context, what does ‘governing well’ mean? Do the core goals and techniques of governance need to be re-set? Are there aspects  and features of populism that should be harnessed by those governing from the political mainstream?

We invite short essays or films which explore some of these issues in new, imaginative and accessible ways.

What makes a particularly good entry to a competition like the Bennett Prospect Prize is a question we are often asked. Whilst there is no single formula we would offer in response, these are some reflections on the pieces we liked most from previous competition entries:

  • 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.
  • Write in your own style but avoid the soapbox. Remember that you want your argument to be persuasive to a cross-section of political opinion, so avoid being too zealous or dogmatic.
  • Remember finally, that politics and public policy are 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 seeing all of this year’s entries, and urge you to help us by spreading the word about this unique early career opportunity.

Read more top tips from former prize winners, Dr Vageesh Jain (2019/20) and Dr Eric Lybeck (2018/19) and the winning finalists' entries in 2019/20 and 2018/19.

  • About the author

    Professor Michael Kenny, Inaugural Director, the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

    Professor Kenny directs the Institute’s place and public policy programme.   Learn more

    Mike Kenny