Submitting evidence to the House of Lords

A few days ago I received an email informing me that the report from the House of Lords Digital Fraud Committee had been published. This was exciting news, as I had submitted some written evidence myself. The email provided me with the option to read the report as both a PDF and HTML – someone there has been paying attention to Open Standards! I clicked on the link, skimmed the executive summary (which was pleasingly eviscerating on the subject of the government’s inertia when it comes to tackling fraud) and then I did what any modern day narcissist would do; I Ctrl +F’d my way through to find myself!

Oh look – there I am. Liz Eden. No asterisk, denoting I had submitted written evidence only (sadly I was not invited to go and speak my piece in person – and I probably wouldn’t have been as engaging as that nice Mr Joe Lycett), but there I am in print (digitally) in the hallowed records of parliamentary proceedings!

So that was pretty cool.

As I started to read the report properly, I noticed some contributors were additionally named in footnotes, as citations for certain bits of content that made it into the final draft. And there I am again, in a footnote, against a point they included (which since you asked, posited that feelings of isolation and mental health concerns can exacerbate vulnerability to certain kinds of digital fraud).

That was even cooler. Not only is my name there as an also-ran, but something I said actually got added in!

A bit of imposterism* may have crept in at this point, as I started to give myself all sorts of reasons why this wasn’t actually quite that impressive (probably everyone shows up in a footnote somewhere). Fortunately my wonderful husband was on hand to sternly nip that in the bud and to ‘encourage’ me to post about this on LinkedIn, (I fervently hate that kind of self-promotion about my professional achievements when done in a personal social media context). As it turns out a few people were impressed, and so I stuck it on Facebook and on that Mastodon that everyone’s talking about these days.

But, my occasional inclinations to downplay my own achievements notwithstanding, this really *shouldn’t* be that impressive. I mean it sounds good, “I gave evidence to the House of Lords and they listened to me!” But this shouldn’t be extraordinary. It should be utterly commonplace.

At any given time there are any number of consultations open, seeking input from pretty much anyone who has something to say on the subject. Lots of notable figures (like Joe Lycett) and organisations will get called upon to contribute. But it’s also completely fine to do so in a personal capacity.

I work in a very large university and, without wishing to disparage my employer, things aren’t always… super joined-up! I made an attempt to go through channels – I honestly did! But time was a factor, and getting someone to take ownership of an ‘official’ submission by UCL was clearly going to take ages. Plus, I didn’t want my hot take to get overly blunted from comms specialists and media teams thinking I was being a bit too spicy!

Which is, I contend, a genuine concern when it comes to issues like fraud. Everyone: the law enforcement agencies, the banks, the special interest groups, are in CYA mode. There’s a great deal of hand wringing at how awful everything is, and a great deal of finger pointing about how it’s ultimately someone else’s fault. The corporate entities prepared to stand up and say “we take responsibility for not doing enough” are few and far between.

So I submitted my evidence in a personal capacity, making clear I was doing so having spent nearly a decade providing students with funding advice. I explained I was speaking as a practitioner, with first hand experience of supporting students who have fallen victim to scammers and fraudsters. I relayed what those students have told me and my team about how these crimes have been perpetrated, and the complex feelings that have arisen. The guilt, the shame, the inwards-directed anger, the fear of compounding all those feelings when they realise they have to disclose what happened to someone else. The anxiety that they will be blamed for being so stupid, and the anticipation of the anger at a loss which will never be recovered. And the sometimes gut-wrenching realisation that their dreams of studying at a top global university has just been brutally cut short.

Because, I realised, summarising these experiences in a personal capacity doesn’t make my submission less valuable. The lack of institutional letterhead doesn’t invalidate what I have to say. In fact it might make it more valid – because no one from media relations is cautioning me against saying something that might cast an unflattering light on the institution.

So, take a look at the list of open inquiries. If you have something to contribute about one of those topics based on your own lived experience, whether personal or professional, then write it up and send it in. A cynical person might express doubt as to whether a report of this nature is written to be seen or merely needs to be seen to be written. But, on the other hand, to quote Aaron Sorkin, decisions are made by those who show up.

My tips:

Be honest about your basis for making a submission – if you have something to say and the experiences and/or expertise to back it up then go for it. Be upfront about whether something is a statement of fact or if it’s your opinion. If your hot take is an uninformed rant, I hear that Twitter site is doing ever so well these days!

Be concise. The point is to communicate the salient information to people who will be wading through a lot of submissions. You’re not here to win points for style, or practice writing lyrical prose. If you want to indulge your most verbose inclinations, start up a blog, or go apply to a creative writing course.

Read and adhere to the guidelines which are laid out really clearly for each inquiry. Also respect the deadline – but if you’ve just missed it, drop the clerk a note and check if it’s really too late. In my case I was told a late submission was fine.

Write in clear plain English and avoid excessive use of slang, idioms, jargon or invective. Even if you feel passionately about the topic, respect the time and the sensibilities of the people who have to read each submission, and shouldn’t have to subject themselves to torrents of verbal abuse to do their job. If you get off on swearing at strangers, go hang out on 4Chan.

Get someone else, preferably a non subject specialist, to give it a quick proof read for clarity and obvious errors.

*I was recently embroiled in a rather tedious discussion about whether the term Imposter Phenomenon was preferable to Imposter Syndrome, and so I suggested ‘imposterism’ as a grammatically incorrect but semantically neutral alternative.