What makes a winning Bennett Prospect Public Policy Prize entry? Michael Kenny, Director of the Bennett Institute, shares his thoughts.
The main aim of the Bennett Prospect Public Policy Prize is to showcase the thinking of talented early career policy researchers, and to elicit their ideas about some of the biggest policy challenges of our times. The scale of the prize – £5,000 for the winner and £1,000 each for two runners-up – 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: “What is a twenty-first century civil service for?”
The challenges facing today’s civil service are enormous. And the question of what sort of bureaucracy and what kinds of civil servant are required to deliver good government in the twenty-first century is of huge significance. In the context of the seismic challenges associated with the global pandemic, as well as the many other policy issues with which governments are grappling, we want to hear creative ideas about the purpose and mission of the modern bureaucracy.
Calls to modernise and streamline the civil service have been recurrent in recent decades, and governments have identified their own ambitions in different areas. But which reforms are most important? Should these focus on structural or cultural change? How should we train the civil servants of the twenty-first century? What should be the guiding mission of the modern bureaucrat? Is there a need for a civil service as traditionally understood?
This year’s prize provides a timely opportunity to explore these and other related questions, to examine lessons from different countries and consider afresh what kind of civil service is now required.
What makes a strong entry to a competition like the Bennett Prospect Public Policy Prize is a question we are often asked. While there is no single formula, these are some reflections on the pieces that most impressed us from previous competition entries:
- Write 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.
If you are entering a short video, make your points clearly, use simple visual aids, keep it fast moving.
- 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.
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.