Policy and social research

Research, develop and deliver policy in different types of organisation.


Working in this sector offers a wide range of opportunities, including influencing, creating, researching or delivering policy at local, national or intergovernmental level, or supporting the work of political organisations. Working in politics can involve lobbying, gathering information on policy and administration to support political activity. 

A degree in relevant subjects is required for entry into many of the roles in this section, and in some cases a relevant postgraduate qualification can be essential. 


What’s it like? 

You’ll need to be a highly organised, confident team player, with well-developed skills of persuasion, a sound understanding of political systems and a wide-ranging grasp of current affairs.  

You should be good at analysing, synthesising and communicating complex information. Excellent research and numeracy skills and the ability to use IT effectively are also important.  


The focus of your work will depend on the type of organisation, as well as your actual role. Think about which area of policy work best suits your interests, skills and motivation. Ask yourself:   

  • Do you want to be involved in the process of government? Look into public sector roles, especially central and local government, where you’ll be researching, planning and developing services, and advising elected officials such as MPs on policy, planning and development.  

  • Are you committed to advancing a particular cause? Look into roles with charities, campaign groups and pressure groups, where you’ll be aiming to influence and inform opinion, and building relationships with government and the media. 


The routes into this field are many and varied and there is a lot of mobility. As your skills and interests develop, and your expertise grows, you will be able to move between employers and even change the focus of your work: from the public to the private sector, from a consultancy to a think tank, from UK to international policy. 


Follow the links below for profiles of occupations where policy work is involved: 

Government Social Research Officer 

Find out more about Civil Service recruitment on our blog.

Inform.ed blog

How can I get experience? 

Policy and social research are competitive fields. Work experience. volunteering, internships and building a network in the sector will increase your chances of securing a position.

Consider volunteering for a charity, political party, or MP.  

Student societies can also be a valuable way to gain experience. There are several at Edinburgh that are relevant including The Buchanan Institute and ones for all of the major political parties in the UK. 

Work experience in Government can be harder to find. For example, the Civil Service Fast Stream only offers their Summer Diversity Internship Programme.  

Some local councils may offer internships or summer work experience. Use the Government website to find local council contact details. 

There are several think tanks based in Edinburgh, including Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, which may offer work experience opportunities. 


Are there graduate opportunities available? 

Yes - it is worth checking regularly and putting in the research to find out what is on offer. 

There are graduate schemes with a focus on policy or social research with organisations like Cancer Research UK, CharityWorks (a UK-wide charity graduate scheme), The Civil Service and the Scottish Government. 

Where to find vacancies

In addition to those mentioned in the previous section, other sources of opportunities can be places such as Think Tanks, Trade Unions, Charities and consultancies. Further information on these can be found below.