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What are the challenges and opportunities for mid-career researchers to engage with policy?

14 March 2016

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Reported by Tom Pryke, ESRC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (February - April 2016)

CSaP partnered with Churchill College Cambridge to deliver a workshop which brought together academics in Cambridge who have an interest in taking leadership roles in the scientific community and becoming advisers to government. The workshop’s aim was to expand the pool of potential ‘scientific leaders’ and to encourage people to start thinking about these options in mid-career.

A panel of experts who have experience of working with policy makers across government highlighted the importance of “getting involved and facilitating dialogue” between leading researchers in their fields and government officials.

The panel discussed the range of ways in which expertise gets into parliament such as via Select Committees, All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), to name but a few. They were also keen to stress the importance of the learned societies in helping to introduce and secure these connections in the first instance.

“You have to think very broadly when dealing with central government, but that is a great challenge”

An open discussion gave academics the opportunity to question how researchers might begin to present their arguments in acceptable ways, what skills were required to be effective in this type of interaction, and what the motivations were to engage with policy.

Attendees were advised to look seriously into the possibility of engaging more with policy - not only to support and promote their own research, but also because the process itself was “both fascinating and interesting”. This type of engagement also provided important learning opportunities, particularly in helping researchers think about the framing of their research and the importance of this when approaching policy makers. Crucially, the panel highlighted that there was a ‘feedback loop’ to be gained here, and such engagement could stimulate and motivate one’s own research.

Encouragingly, feedback from many of the attendees suggested that there was a significant appetite to gain a better understanding of how evidence informs policy, and to get more involved in the science-policy arena.

(Banner image from Paul van de Velde via Flickr)

Professor Dame Athene Donald

Churchill College Cambridge

Dr Robert Doubleday

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Professor Chris Lowe

Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge

Dr Sarah Main

Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CASE)