Susanna Karvinen was a policy and communications intern for Policy Scotland in spring and summer 2020, while undertaking the MSc International Relations programme at the University of Glasgow.
Here she describes her experience.
Working as an intern for Policy Scotland provided me with valuable understanding of collaboration between academia and policymakers. I also gained experience on how an academic workplace along with all its knowledge exchange activities goes fully virtual.
Collaboration in different policy sectors
One of the main benefits of my internship at Policy Scotland was to assist in networking, knowledge exchange and collaboration activities. My previous work experience is mainly from the third sector. Being involved in Policy Scotland’s projects enabled me to better understand how collaboration happens between academia, government agencies and the private sector.
I got to see this work in a variety of policy contexts as Policy Scotland is branched out to such many different but also intertwining strands of work. For example, I assisted in the planning of green recovery collaboration between Policy Scotland, the University’s Centre for Sustainable Solutions, the Glasgow City Council and other partners ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Attending meetings allowed me to see how the different units at the university plan together their roles and engagement with the local government.
I also learned about knowledge exchange internationally by assisting in the development of the More Different Futures Network on housing between Canada, Australia and the UK. Taking notes in bilateral Zoom seminars for this network was a great opportunity to see how experts from different contexts share and utilise knowledge for the purposes of creating better policy outcomes.
Assisting in international seminars during lockdown also provided an opportunity to develop skills highly useful for organising events online. Given that the attendees in the network were from different continents and time zones, delivering such events was a challenge. I helped with the planning by sharing my ideas on the best practices, by writing instructions for attending a Zoom seminar and by helping to co-run the seminars. I believe the success of these seminars proves that international knowledge exchange events and networks are indeed possible to organise more cost effectively and environment friendly without flying. This is an option that all organisations should more seriously consider and an observation that I will certainly promote in my future career.
Learning about a variety of policy responses
The internship was engaging also in terms of my studies in the MSc International Relations programme at the University of Glasgow. In my studies, and future career, I am focusing on social justice and human rights in the international system and in differing local contexts. I was therefore eager to learn about some of the social policy issues in Scotland, in the UK and in the international level related to Policy Scotland’s strategic themes.
Through taking notes for the More Different Futures Network I learned what housing experts think of issues like homelessness, affordable housing or benefit systems. Equally I got to follow conversations about appropriate policy responses to the challenges that COVID-19 brings to these issues. In the planning of green recovery collaboration, I learned more about the ongoing climate crisis related strategies and activities of both the university and the Glasgow City Council. These ranged from green infrastructure and green space to heating, housing and green jobs.
I also learned more about the issues that children and families are facing in Scotland through Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland (CNS). I attended a CNS research session at a local high school in Clydebank and wrote about how the young people are participating in the project as co-researchers. In my studies I am interested in the importance of the agency of the local voices in tackling social inequality. That is why I really welcomed the opportunity to see how children and young people have a central voice in CNS research that aims to address disadvantage through the Capabilities Approach.
The internship at Policy Scotland was also a great opportunity to further shape my interpersonal skills. One of my major projects was to develop a stakeholder database that would allow more effective and targeted communication and knowledge exchange for future activities. It required many emails, Zoom meetings and strategic planning to gather all the relevant data from a variety of different sources. I had to find the ways to retrieve the data from each individual colleague in a manner most suitable for them while they were busy with responding to the challenges by COVID-19. This required clear communication and persistent yet polite reminding about the task.
Collaborating with a variety of different kinds of people in a working environment where one is not native also develops skills to adapt and succeed in different organisational and cultural environments. For me this meant learning how an academic workplace functions and what are the particular styles of communication, work routines and practices in a Scottish working environment. For instance, being from Finland I am used to a friendly, but very straight-to-the-point kind of communication and it has taken me a while to understand the value of starting an email with a formality. My studies in International Relations and human rights will inevitably lead me to an international career in governmental or third sector organisations. Therefore, understanding the nuances of different working cultures will be an extremely valuable skill to possess.
More about Policy Scotland internships
Policy Scotland offers several paid internships each year to students at the University of Glasgow, usually starting in the early spring.
Each internship offers the chance to work with senior academics who are closely linked with policy processes, with active researchers within Policy Scotland and across the University, and with high level policymakers. The experience provides insights into how policy processes work at different levels of government and through the legislative process
Find out more about the Policy Scotland internships and how to apply.