The survey showed that there is a great deal of profile-raising activity going on and some very positive success stories and practical examples to follow.
No one method of profile-raising is used, and found to be effective, universally. There is a shortage of evidence for what works and this might be a subject for further work, by IFLAPARL and/or others. There is scope for experiment and innovation, including with methods that are currently used in only a few places.
What works must depends partly on the local context but, according to the survey results, direct personal contact with Members is likely to be a principal key to success. The best-rated method achieved a ‘highly effective’ assessment from 50% of respondents: “Presentation of the service to Members individually, interviews with Members”. Several other highly-rated methods include personal contact so at least one might be applicable in the local context.
There is a place for online or paper-based communication – making research publications available and publicising the service offer – but the survey suggests that the impact may be limited. There is also a place for action to build the reputation of the service – not direct advertising or promotion to Members or (potential) service users, but activities which will enhance awareness and reputation of the research service inside the parliament and beyond.
Three methods were felt to have some effect by every service using them: two concerned work with Committees, the other was requesting feedback after work had been delivered. If those options are locally available then any service should consider using them.
There are methods which are not widely widely used but are highly rated by those who deployed them. These minority choices might be seen as a partial corrective to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ identifying the most popular methods. The most striking example of this is ‘open days and research weeks’ – used by only seven services, but five of them rated it as ‘highly effective’. It looks like there could be alternatives worth looking at and there is also still scope for innovation in profile raising.
By contrast, for many methods there is difficulty in knowing what impact they have – nine methods had 25% or more services unsure about the results (in terms of raising their profile, at least). This implies that methods are used, quite widely/frequently, based on evidence/advice from other contexts, or on intuition, rather than local evidence for their effectiveness. This may be unavoidable and may also represent good judgement calls, but it would be helpful if the profession developed assessment methods.
Do services know what their profile is with Members?
Some aspects of the relationship with Members are quite well understood, other aspects are generally unknown. There is scope for work by the profession to clarify measures for image and reputation, and to develop methods to monitor them. Services generally know about volume of business and which Members use them. Most have intelligence on how Member view their service – often from surveys – and a large minority go further in requesting feedback and conducting interviews or similar exercises. They are rather less likely to know what their research is used for, or how useful it is, or specifically what their image and reputation is amongst Members. (A Member may be very satisfied with a service but nevertheless consider it as low profile and of relatively low value for their work – those positions are not incompatible). The effectiveness of activities to raise the profile, to promote the service, is measured only by a small minority – so the ratings for ‘effectiveness’ in the survey seem to be based on informal assessment rather hard evidence. Again, there is scope for the profession to develop common methods to address this.
Special promotional methods for a new parliament
This is near-universal. Responses underlined the finding that more personal forms of contact with Members are likely to get better results. The other main conclusion in this area is that it may help to delay the approach to new Members until some time into their term, when they have dealt with the initial challenges of the new role and may be more receptive to the research offer.
What do services think is valuable in their offer to Members?
The responses here expressed important professional beliefs, and reflect the standard, historical, professional view that research services are of unquestioned value to Members. It is not at all clear, however, that this is how clients or potential clients see things. And it is the client that determines value, not the supplier. Demonstrating to Members that your service delivers value seems the critical point of an effective marketing strategy. Identifying what Members consider valuable, and mapping your service’s offer onto that, is an essential first step. Practical work on value will be the subject of posts in a new series later in 2022.
Do services have a marketing strategy?
No service has a formal marketing strategy, according to the responses. As the ‘IFLA Guidelines for Parliamentary Research Services‘ points out “Research services…operate in a…competitive environment where analytical contributions can come from multiple sources, both internal and external to parliaments” (page 33). ‘Marketing’ provides methods to analyse and operate in a competitive environment. So it is surprising that marketing is not more of an explicit interest amongst research services.
Services probably already have an implicit strategy with goals and actions that are not expressed as ‘marketing’. It should help to focus explicitly on marketing: analysing their current situation, how they want to improve it and what measurable objectives and performance they are aiming at. Using the tools and methods of marketing strategy should help in creating a working strategy to raise a service’s profile.
Ways of building a strategy should become part of the common knowledge of the profession. IFLAPARL, regional associations and the IPU could help promote marketing methods and performance measures. They might also help share experience and results of using different promotional methods and of innovations.
Some operational conclusions – how services might use the survey results
- For a service starting out in profile raising, or one reviewing its effort, it looks like a good choice would be to focus on any and every method which brings the service into direct personal contact with the Member and/or their staff.
- There is a place for the classic promotional methods of emails, leaflets etc; and publishing and display of products – but this research suggests it is not enough on its own.
- If there is an opportunity to work with parliamentary committees, take it.
- It is worth investing outside the institution – networking, work in professional bodies, international cooperation, parliamentary strengthening projects etc – as this is believed to have benefits in internal reputation, as well as other direct and indirect benefits.
- There are some little-used methods that might repay an investment, and – given the lack of any guaranteed winning method – innovation in new methods could also be worth trying. Take a look at what other services are doing – is there something unusual worth trying in your service?
- In a new parliament, can your approach be personal? Is it worth delaying the main promotional effort until after Members have settled in?
- If you are going to invest in raising your service profile, why not spend some time on a strategy and plan, at least so everyone in the team knows what the objectives are and you can measure your progress?
I hope that this report has illuminated how services are raising their profile and has identified some options for good practice as well as some questions for the future. This study cannot answer if it is worth investing in profile raising. If your service is already adequately valued then perhaps not. Under-valuation is, however, a frequent complaint, at least in private, and an obstacle to services fulfilling their potential.
Thanks to IPU for their support and to IFLAPARL for facilitating the survey through its mailing list. Thanks so much to all the respondents who took time to answer. Neither IPU nor IFLAPARL have any responsibility for the content, and the respondents have no responsibility either (other than for the direct quotations).