Newsletter - April 2011
Message from the Executive Director
With one foot in science and the other in policy, it is easy to end up in a game of Twister. The relationship between research, knowledge and science on the one hand, and policy and politics on the other, is extremely complex and raises many unanswered questions.
CSaP, in an attempt to untangle some of these intricacies, has been supporting an ambitious effort to identify the key questions on the relationship between science and policy. This programme reached an important landmark this month with a major workshop, more of which below.
Also in this newsletter are updates on:
- the science-and-policy question on pathways of expert advice in government
- how the Centre is helping early career researchers to learn about and engage with policy
- the emerging CSaP group on risk and uncertainty
...and a brief look ahead to May.
Dr Chris Tyler
Centre for Science and Policy
Science and Policy Research Questions
On the evening of 6 April, the CSaP Science and Policy Studies group convened a meeting of researchers and policy professionals in Cambridge. They had come together to identify and record what they consider to be the most important questions on the relationship between science and policy. By 6pm on 7 April, an initial list of 250 questions had been refined and whittled down to just 40.
Sponsored by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Society of Biology, the workshop was tremendously stimulating and the feedback extremely positive. One participant went as far as to describe it as the best day of his working life! Much of its success was down to the jovially efficient chairing of William Sutherland. Professor Peter Littlejohns, Clinical and Public Health Director at NICE, said of the workshop: "It was very impressive to witness how complex issues were dealt with in such an efficient, but informal and relaxed, way". Dr Laura Bellingan, Senior Science Policy Adviser at the Society of Biology, commented: "The meeting was a terrific example of how much can be achieved by bringing a diverse group of researchers and policy professionals together."
The group will use the results of this exercise to help set a new research agenda and, over the coming weeks, to produce an academic paper - we'll keep you posted on its timeframe for publication. You can read more about the workshop here.
Developing the policy skills of early career researchers
One of the Centre's core areas of activity is the professional development of early career researchers, helping them to learn about the policy process and to gain experience of engaging with it. Alongside a growing programme of training workshops and networking events - the latest of which, "Science on the Inside", was held on 28 April - we have put together two teams of researchers to work on the following projects:
- Mapping Expert Advice. This project looks at how expert advice - scientific, engineering, social scientific, statistical, economic and operational - flows through the structures of government. The team is currently undertaking research, and is planning in the summer to produce an online resource that maps the system across Whitehall.
This is not a trivial exercise, nor has it been attempted comprehensively before. We hope that the resulting product will be of use to researchers interested in the relationship between science and policy, and to government advisers interested in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system.
- The Policy iTeam is looking across the University of Cambridge for cutting edge research that could have important implications for public policy. Over the coming months, they will begin engaging with policy makers to explore the ways in which the research might be useful and to discover whether the policy makers' priorities match those of the researchers, and where knowledge brokering might be useful.
Risk and Uncertainty
On 11 April we held our first planning meeting on the topic of risk and uncertainty. The meeting was held at the Department for Transport, and brought together leading researchers - David Spiegelhalter, Jon Crowcroft, Danny Ralph and Dougal Goodman - with policy professionals including Brian Collins (Chief Scientific Adviser, BIS), Jeremy Watson (Chief Scientific Adviser, CLG) and James Dancy (GO-Science).
The aim of the meeting was to explore what the Centre for Science and Policy might usefully contribute in this area, and the discussion proved to be worthwhile and thought-provoking. Much work is needed to reconcile the complexities of risk and uncertainty with the iterative and challenging process of making policy. In particular, the group is keen to look at issues of communicating risk and uncertainty, the price of resilience and the application of the precautionary principle.
Many of our Associates have indicated their interest in this area and we look forward to keeping you updated on progress.
News in Brief
Science on the Inside
On 28 April we held a seminar, run jointly with the Government Office for Science and chaired by Lord Willis, on "Science on the Inside". It convened scientists who have experience of working on policy, and policy professionals (some of them untrained in the sciences) who work with scientific evidence and scientists.
Discussions explored what the panelists had learned about scientific research and its relevance to the improvement of public policy, as well as how a science presence inside Whitehall has contributed to the understanding of what universities are for. For details and a list of speakers, please see here. A full write up of this event will appear on our website shortly, and in the next issue of our newsletter.
CSaP Distinguished Lecture Series
On 12 May, Professor Christopher Bishop, Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research Cambridge, will deliver our fifth Distinguished Lecture, on "An Innovation Odyssey - from Basic Research to the World's Fastest-selling Consumer Electronics Product". It promises to be an insightful and enjoyable lecture. For more information and to sign up, please see here.
Cambridge Public Policy Seminars
May sees the launch of the Cambridge Public Policy Seminar series. These seminars aim to bring together a diverse range of academics (from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering and technology) to discuss the public policy implications of their research. The Department of Engineering has kindly offered to host the first series of seminars. The speakers and topics will be as follows:
- 6 May, 1 pm (CUED LR4): Dealing with Change. Speaker: the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, former MP, Chair of the Labour Party, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and Home Secretary, and now Visiting Professor at UEA.
- 13 May, 1 pm (CUED LR6): Science Advice in Emergencies. Speaker: Dr Miles Elsden, Head of Civil Contingencies, Health and Biotechnology Teams, Government Office for Science, and CSaP Policy Fellow.
- 20 May, 1 pm (CUED LR4): Judging Nudging: can nudging improve population health? Speaker: Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Policy Research Unit on Behaviour and Health, University of Cambridge.
- 27 May, 1 pm (CUED LR4): The hidden impacts of delay - a case of large infrastructure development. Speaker: Judith Plummer, Senior Financial Analyst with the World Bank and PhD student, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge.
Please send recommendations for future speakers, including graduate students, post docs, faculty and visitors, to Miranda Gomperts.
Darwin College CONNECTIONS Lecture Series
The next two lectures in this series will take place on 10 May and 27 May:
- Tuesday 10 May (Mill Lane Lecture Theatre 9, 5:30 - 7pm): Efficiency, sufficiency, growth: which way to a low carbon economy? - Dr Julia Steinberger, Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds. For more information, please see here.
- Friday 27 May (Judge Business School, 6pm - 7pm): Science in the service of the developing world - Professor Christopher Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Development. For more information, please see here.
May will be a busy month for the Policy Fellowships Programme, with four new Fellows joining us for their initial visits: Graham Pendlebury (Director of Greener Transport & International, Department for Transport), Miles Elsden (Head Civil Contingencies, Health and Biotechnology Teams, GO-Science), Alan Pratt (Director, Science, Engineering and Technology, Home Office), and Philip Langsdale (Chief Information Officer, BAA).
A debt of gratitude
CSaP would like to thank the David Harding Foundation and the Isaac Newton Trust for their donations which made the Centre's creation possible.