A number of key posts in Government are held by people who spent most of their careers as academics. These advisers and policy makers are brought into the civil service because of the knowledge that they bring to policy issues, even if they do not have a practical knowledge of policy. Consequently, the transition from university academic to government civil servant can be quite a challenge.
On 15 November CSaP held a one-day seminar in partnership with 4CMR which introduced 38 early career researchers to the possibilities and realities of engaging with policy. Participants represented a range of disciplines and backgrounds and the panellists included scientists social scientists and engineers as well as government science advisers and career civil servants. We were privileged to have such an eminent and engaging set of contributors (a full list can be found here).
The first session opened with a panel of researchers who explained that they had decided to move across into advisory roles in the words of one of the panellists "to change the world!" Another said that he did not want civil servants to have the excuse that “no-one told them why something wouldn’t work".
The audience enjoyed the open and honest accounts of the panellists' experiences in government. And this led to a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion which touched on uncertainty and lack of clarity in the policy making process the role of science advice in policy making differences in the way research is done in the civil service and universities and communication skills. In particular the panellists identified some of the challenges that researchers face when they engage with policy which led to a number of interesting discussions over lunch about how the policy process might be improved so as to take appropriate account of scientific and other kinds of expert advice.
The early career researchers presented some of their ideas to a panel of interested and engaging policy makers - some of whom were science advisers in government and others career civil servants. A lively discussion about the realities and constraints of the policy process ensued and a number of interesting and difficult issues emerged such as the importance of timescales economics politics and public opinion and how these factors interact with scientific expertise. The policy makers were very generous with their frank assessment of their roles in government ("it does us good to have to explain ourselves occasionally" commented one) and in their advice to the early career researchers who had come to learn about how they could engage with these kinds of people in the future. One science adviser added "getting seconded into a government department is the best thing you can do – if you come in as a specialist you could transform the work of that team".
Banner: Sunset over Kings by Mark Peers
15 November 2010
The Centre for Science and Policy is partnering with the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research (4CMR) to run a Professional Development Policy Seminar to provide an introduction for early career researchers on how public policy is made and the role that research plays.