Julie Pierce: Case study

at Food Standards Agency

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Director of Openness, Data and Digital, Food Standards Agency

“Overall, the Fellowship has improved my interdisciplinary thinking and creative problem solving, and increased the number of quality connections in my network. These outcomes will prove useful in the delivery of my role, whether day to day, or in grappling with the strategic challenges facing the food sector and how we can operate as an excellent, modern regulator.”

The Food Standards Agency works on behalf of the consumer, ensuring that our food is safe and what it says it is. My role - Director of Openness, Data and Digital - was created to emphasise the importance of two areas which are vital to protecting consumer interests.

Firstly, openness – the values of openness and transparency were central to the creation of the FSA. In the wake of the BSE food scandal, consumers were in need of a body which would work on behalf of their interests, independent of industry and government; attempts to open up the food supply chain was a necessary part of this.

Secondly, data and digital – improved monitoring, surveillance and openness of the food system is driven by the latest data modelling and digital technology. I drive innovative approaches and technology into the practices of the FSA, and encourage their use across business.

My CSaP Fellowship has given me access to a broad range of first rate research at the University of Cambridge, as well as NGOs. I have met researchers and entrepreneurs regarding topics such as: whether there is a shift from (passive) consumer to (more engaged) citizen in relation to food, and how innovative technology can be used to move away from a physical inspection based surveillance system.

The Fellowship has given me two things in particular, which I value highly: Immersion in varied – at times even juxtaposing – expert perspectives was enormously engaging and challenging. It was not simply that any one conversation gave me the exact answer I was searching for. Rather, it was the sharpening of my interdisciplinary skills and lateral thinking, which allowed me to refine my areas of investigation.

The second feature of the Fellowship, which I have highly valued is the networking opportunities. Over the course of the five days I spent immersed in the research world of Cambridge, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of social scientists whom I have remained in contact with. Several of them took part in the FSA’s Symposium on Social Science.

This network of experts will be an effective resource as I move forward in my role. For example, with regards to the planned merging of our marketing and consumer insight team with our social science team. It is hoped that this move will conserve the best features of both teams – the delivery rate of the marketers and the rigorousness of the social scientists. Having a network of experts at my fingertips will no doubt aid in the solution to any teething issues this merge will create. Or in the creation of a world leading, technology enabled, responsive, modern surveillance model for the emergence of new or changing food safety and crime risks.