Written by Dr Natalie Shenker, Research Associate in the Department of Surgery & Cancer
All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are intended as a vehicle to bring together cross-party MPs and peers from the House of Lords who are interested in a particular area of policy. They also create communities of specialists, special interest groups, and interested members of the public, who can work together and individually to highlight new insights, research and innovations.
There are several APPGs that currently operate in fields related to my research as a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow aiming to understand the public health impacts of human milk bank services. I am an active contributor to the APPG on Infant Feeding Inequalities, and attend APPGs on the First 1001 Days, Premature and Sick Babies and the Microbiome. Being part of an APPG means that you can attend meetings, ask questions and request to submit evidence. Most of the APPGs are free to join, but some have a secretariat that requires funding and will charge members to join (an interesting ethical debate can be had around this practice). Submitting evidence can be as simple as sending a relevant paper to the committee or asking to present a talk on your work.
Presenting at an APPG can be slightly intimidating – the committee proceedings pre-COVID-19 take place in committee rooms in the House of Parliament or at Portcullis House. Security is tight to get in and the queues can be long. On my first attendance, there had been a last minute change of venue (this is common, so make sure you watch out for late emails); all of us including MPs and peers ended up running together down an underground corridor to get to the new room on time. The rooms are usually set up so that the committee are seated in a semi-circle with tables facing them, a little like a Select Committee, and there are chairs at the back for the audience. It took me a couple of meetings to realise that anyone could sit on the central tables, and that actually things are a lot less formal than they appear at first sight. The parliamentarians are genuinely interested in the insights of experts and people with lived experience of the issues they are tackling, and to an academic APPGs offer an accessible insight into the machinations that lead to policy advances.
Post-COVID-19, meetings are held online. My work on the commercialisation of human milk banking was due to be presented in April and was delayed until APPGs started taking place again, this time online. Attendance more than doubled, to over 90 individuals and organisations, and the last First 1001 days APPG had over 400 attendees. There have been recognisable impacts already of my presentations, and excellent opportunities to make contacts with collaborators and parliamentarians. Some of my work was recently quoted in a Commons debate, and the Chair of the APPG sent me a copy of Hansard for that day which was inspiring to keep emphasising the results of my research to support policy development. Going online may make APPGs much more accessible to people across the UK as well as parliamentarians who can access remotely while elsewhere from Westminster and can only be a good thing for information dissemination and policy advance.