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Policy makers and scientists collaborate to create new science-policy research agenda

13 March 2012

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The importance of science in public policy has long been recognised, however there is growing debate over how this is best achieved. To address this, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) at the University of Cambridge, coordinated a study chaired by Professor William Sutherland, which brought together over fifty academics and policy makers to agree a new research agenda on the role of science in public policy. The findings appeared in the leading interdisciplinary open-access journal, PLoS ONE, on Friday 9 March. A link to the article can be found here.

The aim of this project was to identify key questions which, if addressed through focused research, could tackle important theoretical challenges and improve the mutual understanding and effectiveness of those who work at the interface of science and policy.

This unique workshop brought together 52 leading scientist and policy makers from a wide range of academic disciplines, including the physical, biological, environmental, medical and social sciences, as well as government, NGOs and industry. Participants were initially invited to produce a list of questions; which, through a process of voting, deliberation and further voting, were distilled into a final set of 40 questions.


Explaining the significance of the research, Professor Sutherland said: “When public policy is supported by scientifically-sound evidence, it is to the benefit of all of society. In order to strengthen the relationship between science and policy, we have, for the first time, compiled a clear set of research questions on scientific advice to governments.”

The final questions include an examination of how the design of scientific advisory systems affects policy outcomes (Q18), whether making science advice more transparent has improved its quality (Q35) and how to ensure early identification of policy issues that require scientific advice (Q10).

Others included:

- What is the effectiveness of different techniques for anticipating future policy issues requiring science input? (Q17)

- How and why does the role of scientific advice in policy-making differ among local, regional, national and international levels of governance? (Q19)

- How do policy makers understand and respond to scientific uncertainties and expert disagreements? (Q29)

Dr Miles Parker, Director of Science in the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA) said: “As a science adviser to government, I want to know ‘what works’ when it comes to ensuring that sound evidence informs public policy. This collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to devising a research agenda was very worthwhile. Understanding the relationship between science and policy is an area of research that needs more attention.”

Dr Robert Doubleday, Head of Research at the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), University of Cambridge, said: “For the first time scientific advisers, policy makers, and academics who study science policy have come together through a structured process to agree a common research agenda. This is a critically important step as too often in the past there has been a serious disconnect between the theory and practice of science policy. This paper will help overcome this gap. At CSaP we are committed to assessing progress made towards addressing these questions.”

The University of Cambridge Research News Article can be found by following the link here.

Banner image from Tomas Carvalho

Dr Michael Bravo

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Dr Rob Doubleday

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor Susan Owens

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Professor Keith Richards

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Professor William Sutherland

Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

  • Projects

    40 Key Research Questions on Science and Policy

    The CSaP Science and Policy Studies Group is running an ambitious programme to identify key questions on the relationship between science and policy.