The British Chamber of Commerce recently provided written recommendations to the UK Parliament’s Select Committee for Trade on business-government relationships as a part of the UK’s Brexit transition process.

LSE Master of Public Administration students Teresa Wukovits, Théo Bourgery, Philip Steinbrecher, Hyokyu Song and Jesús Silva, helped inform these recommendations as a part of their MPA Capstone project in 2018. In their report, the MPA team emphasised the importance of stakeholder engagement in the aftermath of Brexit, and suggested reforms to the British government’s overall engagement strategy with businesses, as well as the implementation of new transparency measures. Many of their original recommendations were reflected in the British Chamber of Commerce’s written testimony, recommendations from which were subsequently agreed to by the Trade Select Committee.

The SPP blog chatted to Jesús Silva about his reflections on the project, 12 months on.

Can you give a brief summary of your capstone project and your key recommendations?

The report identified trade policy-making procedures and institutions to ensure effective and legitimate representation of business interests during trade negotiations between the UK and the European Union.

Building on an in-depth UK institutional analysis as well as an assessment of engagement mechanisms in wider practices, in the European Union, the United States, South Korea, Chile and Mexico, it provided policy recommendations that intended to foster better representation of businesses in future trade negotiations and during the Brexit process itself.

It argued that the British Government should reform and develop its engagement strategy, especially with regards to formal interactions with businesses, and transparency measures. We specifically call for the creation of an expertise-driven “Trade Strategy Advisory Group” to create reiterative relationships throughout the entire policy cycle. The “room-next-door” mechanism, as instituted by Chile and Mexico, is also of high policy interest. Furthermore, it suggests the creation of an independent body, in the form of an Ombudsman, to ensure transparency and legitimacy through bottom-up interactions between citizens and the Government. Other policy recommendations touch on transparency; the use of ICTs; and parliamentary scrutiny.

How did you go about formulating your argument – what sort of sources did you draw on, what sort of evidence did you gather?

As the Brexit process itself is a new and challenging process, this was one of the most difficult parts of our project. Nonetheless, we had the support of the British Chamber of Commerce to generate new evidence that would help us tailor existing literature and best practices to the British context. In order to do this, our first task was to generate a structure that would help us to navigate the development of the project. The recommendations made by our Capstone advisors, Robert Basedow and Waltraud Schelkle, experts on the subject, were key during the entire process but especially at the beginning.

As in all academic research, we decided to first plan the entire process, beginning with a review of the literature on trade policy and stakeholder engagement. This provided the theoretical foundation for dimensions that explain effective and legitimate engagement mechanisms, and thus must be considered in the design of future mechanisms in the UK. This framework grounded our analysis of the UK landscape, and our cross-country comparative assessment.

In order to generate evidence and reach an in-depth understanding of the reality in the UK, we drew on the institutional framework being developed in the wake of the June 2016 referendum outcome and complemented it with a series of interviews with academics, NGOs and think-tanks, business leaders and public and international organisation officials. Following this, we made a comparative assessment that would help us to understand what works and what does not in practice and, finally, made policy recommendations tailored to the UK.

In summary, we first developed the lenses that would help us to gear our research, analyzed what worked in other countries, generated evidence for the UK context and made recommendations tailored to the UK.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting together the report?

I think one of the biggest challenges was coordinating the time to put together the report and work together as a group. As we were five people from different backgrounds and nationalities, we had to acknowledge the differences between us in order to work together as a team but also to take advantage of the capabilities of each member of the group.

I think we were able to manage the differences in our schedules, priorities and workload, by making clear what each one of us were looking to get from this experience but also by agreeing on respecting the time we assigned to work on the project and to complete on time the tasks we assigned to each other.

As in every project, some of the team members tried to lead, but to our good fortune each one of us had a leading role in different aspects of the project.  Of course there were people that worked harder and put more effort on the project but, I think, never to the degree of leaving someone alone to finish most of it.

What was the most rewarding part of the Capstone project for you?

Of course, for me it was the chance to work in a group that was so diverse, that had different opinions about almost everything but that was able to take advantage of this diversity to generate a great outcome.

We also had the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on Brexit by giving some direction to the Government and to businesses to work together and generate opportunities in a difficult context.

But most importantly, I had a team that was willing to learn from each other, a team that generated trust and, to this day, is still a united group. Of course the friendship that we all got from this experience will be the reward that lasts the longest.

Are there things you learnt from this experience that you draw on in your work today?

Yes of course, I am from Mexico and I am currently working in Ecuador, so in spite of us speaking the same language, we have cultural differences that could make the working environment really hard. Nonetheless, I have learned to take advantage of this diversity to generate a better outcome.

Other important aspect that has being useful is the planning process of a project. Each year, I plan the project I am working on, and thanks to our Capstone experience, I always remember that this process has to rely on realistic deadlines, well defined responsibilities and the commitment of each member of the group.

Author: Jesús Silva, a graduate from the MPA Class of 2018.