Palace of Westminster

Introducing formal Information scrutiny to Parliamentary research

In this guest blog post, Anne-Lise Harding shares some of the practitioner research she has carried out during her first year working in the House of Commons library with Select Committees, and the specificities of their Information Literacy needs. Anne-Lise is Senior Liaison Librarian at the House of Commons and the Government Libraries Sector Representative for the Information Literacy Group.

Anne-Lise Harding
Anne-Lise Harding

Parliament performs the key role of holding the UK Government to account through scrutiny. 

This role is carried out through various means; one of the most central being Select Committees. House of Commons Select Committees examine “the work of government departments and continue working throughout a whole parliament” (UK Parliament, 2020).

To perform this essential role in scrutiny, Select Committees rely on expert advice, submissions to calls for information, and the research and scoping work performed by Select Committee Specialists. 

In my role as Senior Liaison Librarian, I am particularly interested in supporting the information needs of research colleagues in the Committee Office.

Through their research and scoping work, Committee Specialists work at the intersection of two contextualisations of Information Literacy: workplace and citizenship.

Research colleagues use information “to help achieve organizational aims, and to add value to organizational activities” with the mission of questioning and furthering democracy. Through carefully examined and selected evidence, they allow citizens and marginal voice to make a meaningful difference on policy and reinforce democracy and civic engagement. 

In order to develop an appropriate and challenging Information Literacy framework, both rational and pedagogical approach need to be suited to a very particular audience. 

My research was conducted completely remotely and soon after my appointment, making organic encounters and research opportunities impossible. 

I focused on:

  • Understanding research outputs throughout the inquiry lifecycle: scoping documents, briefs, final report
  • Analysing and recognising the balanced information needs of select committees: it is a delicate balance between reflecting expertise and experience and political positions
  • The research process of Committee Office researchers which can differ greatly between committees/has to be very quick
  • The various research backgrounds: Specialists can be either experts in their policy area or generalists. Their information skills are drastically different

This was achieved remotely through:

  • Shadowing inquiries
  • Attending in-house training on conducting inquiries training
  • Examining scoping documents
  • Conducting Information behaviour interviews with colleagues across a range of committees 

To start with, a meaningful concept needed to be introduced in order to get buy-in from Committee Specialists.  The term Information Scrutiny makes Information Literacy meaningful for colleagues: it relates back to a familiar concept whilst introducing a new element of knowledge and expertise that enhances current practices.

All these considerations will feed into producing an Information Scrutiny framework aimed at highly skilled, time-challenged researchers with the following considerations:

  • How do you train highly competent researchers?
  • How do you enrich fully functioning practices?
  • How do you go beyond traditional, HE-focused Information Literacy?

Stay tuned for an update in my next blog post. 

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