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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morley

Keeping up with the policymakers

Since I published the latest version of my What The F(ederation) blog synthesising all the health data policies published in the last 18months, I've had a number of questions along the lines of "How do you keep up with everything that's been published" or "How do I find policies related to x topic." I'm not in the business of gatekeeping knowledge, know-how, or methodologies so here is a brief outline.

Make Gov.UK your friend

The Gov.UK website is effectively the definitive source of all policy updates, but it can be confusing to navigate or difficult to find exactly what you're looking for unless you're familiar with it. This is mostly because of the way Gov.UK categorises the information it hosts, everything is tagged by Department and content type. The Departments are fairly self-explanatory: a full list is available here . If you're only interested in the policies, or research, published or hosted by one Department then you can navigate to that Department's homepage e.g.:

From there, you can scroll down and find all the latest news, policy papers & consultations, guidance & regulation, and research & statistics published by that Department:

It is important to check all the content types because all make up the overarching policy picture and (for example) not every new policy gets a press release or has research associated with it. The landing page for each of the content types, filtered by the Department looks like this:

As you can see you can add further filters to the menu on the lefthand side e.g.,last updated.

This kind of narrow Department focus works well if you're only interested in the progress made by one Department on one topic. However, it's quite rare these days that any policy - particularly if it is thematic (e.g., artificial intelligence) sits within the domain of one Department. It is far better, therefore, to search by topic and then keyword.

To do this, open a tab for each of the content types (news, guidance and regulation, research and statistics, policy papers and consultations) from the main website navigation in the footer of the page:

Then filter each type of content for the topics you are interested in. First by high-level topic, for example:

Then add sub-topics e.g.,:

And then add the date range you're interested in:

Unfortunately, you cannot multi-tag so normally you will have to repeat this process several times for each content type to make sure you are covering all potential angles. For instance, to find policy papers related to health data I would normally check:

  1. All the sub-topics within the Health & Social Care topic except blood regulation & safety or disabled people (unless of course, I was looking to see if anything had ever been published about data related to disabled people, but chances are this would appear at a higher level of abstraction anyway);

2. Further and higher education, skills and vocational training within the Education, Training and Skill Topic;

3. Business Regulation, Industrial Strategy, Media & Communications, Science & Innovation, Trade & Investment, and UK economy within the Business and Industry topic; and

4. Digital inclusion and accessibility in society, Equality, rights and citizenship and Online safety within the Society and Culture topic.

Sometimes figuring out the exact combination of topics/ tags you want to search is a process of trial and error.

Finally, for a belt and braces approach, once you have completed these manual searches you can search by keyword e.g., "Artificial Intelligence" within all topics.

It is worth remembering here that Gov.UK is not Google. It is a very good website for what it is, but it does not have amazing semantic interpretability functionality so with keywords you have to be *really* specific and it will not understand boolean operators.

Get to know the ALBs

Of course, it's not just the main ministerial Departments that publish relevant policy documents, it is also the Arms Length Bodies and not everything that gets published by an Arms Length Body ends up on Gov.UK so .... you guessed it ... you also need to search each of the relevant ALBs websites.

The starting point here is to make sure you have the full list of ALBs. So go to the homepage for all Ministerial Departments here:

Then click on the drop down menu for the relevant departments you are interested in. For example, for data that would be DCMS, DHSC, the Cabinet Office, BEIS and DSIT e.g.,

Once you have a full list of all the ALBs, you can narrow down the list to those that have responsibilities that might be relevant to your topic. For instance, for health data, under the umbrella of DHSC that would be:

  • MHRA

  • CQC

  • NICE

  • NHSE (including NHSI and NHSD)

  • HEE

  • HRA

  • The National Data Guardian

From there it's a case of going through the content published by the relevant ALBs on their website. The exact way to do this depends on the website/ ALB in question. For example, for NHSE you would want to check news, blogs, statistics, and publications as well as searching by keyword:

Ok, now don't forget Parliament

Parliament does not like to be left out. It is, after all, responsible for legislation, Select Committee hearings, and All Party Parliamentary Groups all of which may be relevant. Parliament has a separate website here.

On Parliament.UK the most relevant content is filed under Business, and then within either Bills & Legislation, Committees, or Publications & Records:

BUT, thankfully, there is an overarching search function on a slightly different domain here (or:

This should make it relatively easy to find the content you are looking for. However, like with Gov.UK the semantic functionality built into the search is not perfect. So sometimes it's best to use Google to help e.g., if you Google "Artificial Intelligence UK Parliament" you will find the direct links more quickly:

And now it's time for the alerts

As you can (hopefully) see this is a fairly labour-intensive and painstaking process. That you do not necessarily want to have to repeat regularly if you are conducting an ongoing research project (like I am for my PhD for example). This is where alerts become your best friends. Specifically, you will want to set up 3 sets of alerts:

  1. Email alerts for the searches you conducted on Gov.UK

2. Good old fashions Google Alerts

3. (Until it dies) Twitter notifications for the key organisations. I have tweet notifications on for all relevant Gov Departments and all relevant ALBs as well as any other relevant organisations. Obviously this can get a lot so I don't allow push notifications from Twitter. I just know the notifications are there when I want to check them.

Finally, analyse to your heart's content!

After all this painful searching you should have all the material that you need for analysing. There are multiple ways to do this. I mostly conduct manual qualitative analysis and either conduct thematic or rhetorical analysis of the content in keeping with Grounded Theory. However, it is also possible to do quantitative text analysis using (for example) python or R. I've done this too but don't rely on it as often because I prefer to 'know' the text and I find quantitative analysis makes me feel too far removed. But that's a personal preference - both approaches have pros and cons.

Anyway, that's it! Hopefully helpful. Go forth and analyse policy.

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