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Committee on Standards in Public Life

Prof. Mark Philp

Prof. Mark Philp

Professor of History and Politics, Deputy Head of Department (Research),

Department of History

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Read about Prof. Philp's input into the UK's Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL):

Research at the Committee on Standards in Public Life

Max Weber Lecture with Mark Philp (video)

Prof. Philp in conversation with Max Weber Fellows

Professor Philp chairs the Research Advisory Board for the UK’s Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL). He draws on his research and expertise to manage the Committee’s research and to contribute to discussions and the formation of policy within the Committee – very much as one of the team. Prof. Philp became involved in the CSPL while undertaking research on values in public life in relation to the UK and EU more than 20 years ago. The Committee invited Philp to sit on the Research Advisory Board when it began its empirical work. This subsequently led to 5 two-yearly reports on the attitudes of the general public to those in public office. For the last two of those reports Prof. Philp was the chair of the advisory board that commissioned and managed the writing up of the research.  

What prompted you to engage with this policy/project?

I have a long-standing interest in corruption in politics and remain concerned about what makes political processes go well or badly – together with an interest in ethics in politics - for example I have published extensively on realism in political theory. This kind of involvement was an opportunity to work with professionals outside of academia on an area where intellectual and research interests intersected with important public sector issues. 

Where did you hear about it, and who did you contact?

My then colleague and I contacted the secretariat of the CSPL to ask if we could talk to them. They were keen to have a more academic perspective on the work they wanted to do. 

What support did you receive, and from whom?

I didn't have any support really – on the research front I was working on things that were not widely studied and I have ended up recruiting other academics where additional expertise has been needed. Over time, the role has become a much wider one – and now involves me being consulted on many aspects of the CSPL's work programme and policy recommendations, and attending all the Committee’s meetings. That is partly because I have remained involved as most of the personnel and Committee members and Chairs have changed. That continuity is important to the Committee. 

How does policy engagement impact the rest of your work? 

It is often episodic – with things needing to be done in very short time-frames – politics works at a different pace from academia.  But it has played a major part in my thinking about politics and public sector values – although I am careful to avoid publishing in areas that might compromise the role I play in the Committee. It has also meant I need to keep a good suit to hand. 

What advice would you give to other academics when engaging with policy and policymakers?  

1. Be quick-thinking and flexible - Work out what policymakers want quickly – they are often not clear themselves and you can help shape the agenda – be flexible and keep talking.

2. Be persistent and willing to compromise - I have seen lots of people write reports and urge policies and then disappear from view – if you want ideas to get into policy, you have to stay in the argument and be willing to compromise and to think through alternative possibilities. And that is a learning process.

3. Balance politics with academia - Policy making is a highly political process – and that calls for keeping a balance between having a line and recognising that those with whom one works have to be able to negotiate and temper policy suggestions. I have tried to be careful to ensure that my academic profile is not going to be seen as conflicting with the public bodies with whom I work. Often getting a good policy in place means not getting lots of publicity for your involvement. In my view, the former is the more important!