Mitchell Harris: Case study

at Cabinet Office

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Deputy Private Secretary to Rt. Hon. Oliver Letwin, the Minister for Government Policy, Cabinet Office

In 2020 the world will be a different place from the world where I was born. Over those thirty years, technology and globalisation will have revolutionised the way citizens and organisations think, communicate and behave.

Overall these powerful twin forces have transformed lives for the better: increasing prosperity, improving health and education, as well as transforming whole sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing. But over the next decade the world will also face unprecedented challenges such as climate change, migration, ageing and obesity. These are examples of what Rittel and Webber (1973) described as Wicked Problems: those problems that are highly resistant to solution because they are unbounded in scope, time and resources.

I firmly believe these challenges, which are growing both in scale and in scope, can only be navigated if societies possess effective leaders; those that inspire and drive political, economic, social, technological and legal change in the world that surrounds them.

But change is not simple, and Wicked Problems require elegant solutions. In this new world, the most valuable solutions will be innovative, flexible and collaborative involving citizens as well as the public, private and third sectors. Of course, these challenges are diverse, but they are united by the need for technological and scientific knowledge to underpin policy. As a result rigorous, hypothesis-driven, evidence-based policy will become more essential than ever before, and our leaders will need to be trained accordingly.

The Centre for Science and Policy has the ethos, networks and structures both to train these leaders and help our Government navigate the Wicked Problems ahead. Through its Fellowship programme, CSaP provides a unique centre of excellence to train individuals across the public, private and third sectors as well as to provide them with access to the expertise they require to tackle some of the toughest problems society faces now and into the future.

Without doubt my time as a CSaP Junior Policy Fellow has brought both tangible and intangible benefits to Government. The intense five-day residential programme was enjoyable and eye-opening. Here I was fortunate to meet with world leaders in a diverse range of fields including computing, engineering, ethics, business, economics and psychology. More recently, I have been able to supplement this by attending seminars both in London and Cambridge. As a result I can firmly say that CSaP has facilitated the exchange and development of knowledge, contacts and ideas across sectors allowing me to incorporate cutting-edge scientific advice in my work.

Mitchell Harris

Please note that the views expressed are entirely his own