Sir Mark Walport sets out his priorities at CSaP's annual conference

18 April 2013


Centre for Science and Policy Annual Conference 2013

The Government's new Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, set out his priorities at the Centre for Science and Policy's annual conference - his first major public speech since taking office. Sir Mark, who takes over the post from Sir John Beddington, was formerly Director of the Wellcome Trust.

View Sir Mark Walport's talk here:

Sir Mark highlighted five key themes for scientific advice in Government (see slides: here):

1. Ensuring that scientific knowledge translates to economic growth
2. Strengthening infrastructure resilience for the engineered world of transport, energy, the built environment and telecommunications and also the natural world
3. Underpinning policy with evidence
4. Harnessing science for emergencies
5. Providing advocacy and leadership for science

Taking the platform after just three weeks in the role, Sir Mark offered an insight into the kinds of challenges that he will be addressing. Citing the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice during the Fukushima disaster, Sir Mark also highlighted the often understated role science has to play in diplomacy. Discussing calls for an EU moratorium on neonicotinoid insecticides to protect pollinators, including bees, Sir Mark highlighted the equivocal nature of the current evidence and balanced this with the need to assess the likely economic impact of withdrawing this class of pesticides. He called on the wider scientific community to collaboratively make the case for Government R&D funding (currently standing at £10 billion) by demonstrating the economic and societal impact of long-term research investment.

Sir Mark Walport said, "The challenges we face are significant and complex – from climate change to cyber-security, poverty to pandemics, food technologies to fracking. Difficult issues need to be viewed through multiple lenses, according to the nature of each specific challenge. Excellent advice on science, engineering, technology and social science is essential for the development and implementation of the best policy in Government. We need to break down barriers and silos by strengthening the linkages between industry, academia and government and using science for the benefit of society. Advice from the Government Office for Science can only be as good as the advice we receive and I am looking forward to working widely and collaboratively to pull in the best.”

Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Home Civil Service said, “Science in the Civil Service has a long and illustrious history. From the first Government Chief Scientist, Sir Solly Zuckerman, we have always valued the rigour and analysis that the profession brings to the formulation of evidence. The Civil Service Reform Plan focuses on improving our policymaking and science will play a central role through a combination of the best government knowledge with that of industry and academia.”

Deepening the understanding of how research and policy interrelate and building lasting, productive connections between academia and Whitehall is the primary focus of the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). Founded in 2009 at the University of Cambridge, the Centre also provides much needed professional development to researchers in the early stages of their careers, helping them understand the potential policy ramifications of their work and how best to communicate their research findings to policy makers.

In the last twelve months, CSaP has secured £1.1 million for its research and research-related activities from funding bodies including the ESRC, EPSRC and the European Commission Framework Programme. Over the past year, the total value of the research grants won, of which CSaP’s work forms a part, totalled over £10 million.

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said, “The Centre for Science and Policy is an important initiative, facilitating access to the University of Cambridge’s world-leading expertise. The benefits of this deeper engagement are manifold: for the researchers who gain a greater understanding of real world challenges, for policy makers who gain access to the latest research findings, and for society which benefits from improved, evidence-based decision-making by government.”

Dr David Cleevely, Founding Director of the Centre for Science and Policy said, “At CSaP, we’ve seen concrete examples of how bringing together policy makers and academic experts has informed policy and legislation. We are investing in establishing these professional connections, and are also building a world-class research base aimed at deepening our understanding of how science and engineering advice gets incorporated into policy. In the past twelve months, CSaP has been part of research projects that have raised over £10 million in funding – an indication of the potential benefit to society of further improving knowledge exchange between government and academia.”

CSaP's second annual conference – entitled Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Whitehall - brought together thought-leaders from policy, industry and academia to discuss how government can make more effective use of the UK’s wealth of scientific advice, particularly in the context of the Government’s programme of Civil Service Reform.

A collection of essays entitled Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Whitehall was launched at the conference. Future Directions includes essays by Sir John Beddington (former Government Chief Scientific Adviser), Geoff Mulgan (Nesta), and Jill Rutter (Institute for Government) and was co-edited by Robert Doubleday, Executive Director of the Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge and James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy at the University of Sussex.

Future Directions for Scientific Advice in Whitehall is available for download at:

See highlights from the conference here.

The Centre for Science and Policy’s second annual conference “Future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall” is sponsored by Royal Society of Chemistry, BAE Systems, BP, Lloyd’s, Thomson Reuters and Afton Chemical.

Banner image courtesy of Jeremy Segrott on Flickr

Graham Pendlebury: Case study

Department for Transport (DfT)

  • 18 April 2013, 10am

    CSaP annual conference 2013: Future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall

    Continuing the theme of the Future Directions seminar series, CSaP’s second annual conference will see leading speakers from government and academia explore the changing role of the analytical professions; how government can make better use of external academic expertise; and the nature of evidence in more open policy making.

  • 18 April 2013

    Future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall

    A collection of essays based on a recent series of seminars to stimulate fresh thinking and practical recommendations on future directions in scientific advice in Whitehall, will be launched at the CSaP annual conference on 18 April in London.