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BPS Policy Unit

What does the Policy Unit do?

15 September 2017 | by BPS Policy Unit

Please welcome back Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Lead Policy Advisor for the British Psychological Society, with this piece about what exactly her work (and the work of her team) entails.

For those of you who don’t know me (and I am guessing that’s quite a few!), my name is Lisa Morrison Coulthard and I’ve been a member of Society staff since 1995.

I first became a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow in 2005, after completing my PhD in Psychology, and began managing the Policy Unit in 2012.

I have supported and driven the work of the Research Board since I first joined the Society and am now responsible for overseeing three of our Policy Boards, as well as furthering our broader policy influencing agenda.

Over the last five years, following a period of adjustment following the disbandment of the Publications and Communications Board (which had previously overseen our parliamentary engagement agenda) and several different Directors, steps have been made to implement and integrate a strong and ambitious Policy Influencing Strategy designed to help us make our mark in Westminster, Stormont, the Welsh Assembly and Holyrood.

And while this period was, understandably, an incredibly frustrating time for both the team and our members in general, under the direction of Kathryn Scott (Director of Policy and Communications) we are now moving towards establishing the kind of advances and reputation that was set out in the Strategic Plan 2015-2020.

The Policy Advisors in the Unit, Nigel Atter, Hannah Farndon and myself, are responsible for driving forward our priority workstreams, ably supported by the administrative team of Liz Beech, Zoë Mudie, Joe Liardet, Carl Bourton, Emma Smith and Louise Newton.

At present, our key areas of focus include:

  • dementia
  • obesity
  • end of life care
  • aviation psychology
  • children and young people’s mental health
  • mental health prevention
  • behaviour change
  • psychology and suicidal behaviour
  • workforce planning
  • the Research Excellence Framework
  • autism

Through our Boards and working groups, we produce a range of policy outputs to further our agenda – from research reports and position papers to policy briefings and calls to action.

It is our responsibility to utilise the psychological expertise of our members to inform these publications and to provide practical policy change recommendations directly to the policy makers.

A critical source of support for this work comes from our policy consultants in all four nations, whose involvement enables the Society’s overarching policy agenda to be furthered across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

These consultants also provide essential policy guidance on priority areas for the national branches, aiming to ensure that psychology is at the heart of policy making in each nation, and we work closely as a team with the consultants to enable a consistent and co-ordinated approach.

From a Westminster perspective, the most recent development has been the establishment of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology, Chaired by Lisa Cameron MP.

The workplan for the Group over the next 12 months will provide a prominent and influential platform for some of our key policy outputs, including reports on Psychology at Work, Dementia, and Obesity.

I am delighted to be working directly with the APPG and our policy consultants in driving Psychology further into Westminster and to key policy makers. I am also extremely grateful to the Division of Clinical Psychology for its enthusiasm and support in bringing this to fruition.

Policy influencing is not a straightforward or “one off” process. It takes dedicated time and repeated messaging to gain traction.

A key example of how the unit has moved forward in advancing the Society’s policy influence agenda is that, from 2015, I have been leading the Society’s work on Psychology and the welfare system, primarily the Work Capability Assessment process and the underpinning principles of ESA and UC.

This campaign has culminated in meetings with both Ministers and members of the Expert Advisory Group for the Green Paper on Work and Health, as well as advisory input to the Joint Work and Health Unit on its psychological therapy trials (jointly with the other key psychological therapy organisations) and the forthcoming Psychology at Work report (to be published in the Autumn).

Meetings are held regularly with the Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Health and other cognate organisations to drive forward our key policy recommendations in this area and to provide guidance on how best the psychological evidence base (and the expertise of our members) can improve the significant problems with the current system and help us move towards one which provides tailored individualised support for individuals who are unable to work, are seeking to return to work, or who are at risk of falling out of work. 

The combination of member and staff expertise has the potential to make a considerable impact on public policy where psychology is concerned, and I am excited to be directly involved in demonstrating the true potential of psychology to enhance the lives of individuals, communities and society as a whole.


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