Colin Wilson: Case study

Capability adviser at Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST)

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Capability Adviser: Crime Prevention and Community Safety, Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), Home Office

As a scientist in Government, the Policy Fellowship offered me a superb opportunity to get an academic perspective on some of the issues I regularly grapple with. It not only allowed me to answer my initial questions, but helped me to identify the questions I should have asked in the first place.

The bulk of my questions were related to how new technology entered the market, but I had a few more unusual requests as well, including how to measure deterrence and how to encourage people to be more secure online. This range of interests ensured that the range of academics I met during the week was vast and, though some meetings were more useful than others, I found something of interest in every one. The people I met were universally interesting, friendly and helpful, often emailing me papers and articles before I even reached the next meeting.

In the course of just a few days I learned huge amounts about a diverse range of subjects including communicating risk, manufacturability, the economics of research subsidy, bio-engineering and psychology. Almost everything I discussed, even if it was unrelated to my initial questions, has proved useful in my work since.

To pick a couple of examples, I found my meeting with Professor David Spiegelhalter fascinating from both a mathematical and governmental perspective. Our discussions of risk calculation and perception have since influenced the way I communicate risk to colleagues, stakeholders and even my family. Equally, my recent meeting with Professor Larry Sherman has already changed my approach to evidence in policy and has led me to encourage randomised controlled trials in areas where previously I would have thought them impossible. It is a testament to the flexibility of the Fellowship system that this meeting wasn’t even part of the original set, but came about after many of my contacts during the week told me we should meet. It was then simply a matter of asking CSaP and a meeting appeared.

I can honestly say that I did more academic engagement in my initial week than in the previous few years put together. Since then I am in regular contact with several of the academics I met, and I continue to recommend the Policy Fellowship to colleagues both within and beyond my department.