Newsletter December 2009/January 2010
Welcome to the fifth newsletter from the Centre for Science and Policy - the University of Cambridge's initiative to strengthen relationships between policy makers and experts in science and engineering. In this issue:
- 100 days - a long time in policy?
- Launch of the Science and Policy Studies CIG
- Building the Whitehall bridgehead
- CSaP news in brief:
- Policy Fellowships
- Recent consultations
- Annual Report published
100 days - a long time in policy? His academic colleagues told him it would be frustrating, but David Mackay is enjoying his new role as Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, working alongside civil servants who are passionate about their work and excited by the science of the challenges they face. This was the starting point of Professor Mackay's lecture My First 100 Days in Government, the inaugural event in the CSaP's Distinguished Lecture series, delivered on 18 January. He described the role of science in formulating energy and climate change policy, and the environment in which the actors in this process (scientists, civil servants, ministers and media) work together. An audience of over 100 took part in an extended Q&A session covering questions of vested interests and lobbying, the source of policy leadership, and the need for behaviour change - as well as the importance of critically examining the concept of "need" itself. More...
Science and Policy Studies CIG launchedThe process whereby science influences policy making is a messy business, highly non-linear and recursive. The CSaP's Centre Interest Group in Science and Policy Studies - which held its inaugural meeting on 13 January - intends to bring together students of this process. It will cut across other CIGs that focus on particular technologies and their associated policy fields, giving the Centre for Science and Policy the opportunity to address a range of questions concerning governance in knowledge societies and the role of expert advice in modern democracies. Emerging from a reading group on knowledge and policy in the Department of Geography, the CIG will be led by Professor Keith Richards, Professor Susan Owens, Dr Rob Doubleday and Dr Michael Bravo, but will seek broad interdisciplinary involvement.More...
Building the Whitehall bridgehead The Centre for Science and Policy held the first of its Whitehall Consultations at the Institute for Government on 14 January. Launching the meeting, Lord Richard Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service (now Master of Emmanuel College Cambridge), described the role of the CSaP in providing a bridge between academics and government, and set out the objectives of the Whitehall Consultations - to build the bridgehead in the policy community, particularly with Director Generals and departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs).More...
100 days - a long time in policy? (cont.)
Professor Mackay highlighted the surprises in his first 100 days. He noted particularly the readiness of some in the media to report selectively, inaccurately, or on the basis of spurious sources (see here); and the existence of what he called "invisible walls" between civil servants and MPs other than the few ministers in their home departments. He also observed how cautious civil servants are about discussing extreme cases even as hypothetical limits, for fear that such discussions will be picked up and such cases quoted as if they were policy. Equally striking were the contrasts in timescales (or "drumbeats") in policy making - on the one hand, it can take three years to complete the process of preparing evidence, analysing it, going to consultation with stakeholders and the public, iterating on analysis and consulting again, and finally publishing a policy, whereas on the other hand it can be necessary to respond to questions and challenges in three days. Civil servants must be able to operate in both modes simultaneously.
The second lecture in the series - Science policy research: can research influence policy? how? and does it make for better policy? - will be given by Ben Martin, Professor of Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex, on 3 March 2010. Further lectures are planned for April and June 2010, one of which is to be given by Sarah Mukherjee, the BBC's Environment Correspondent. Attendance at the CSaP's lectures and seminars is by invitation only, but interested members of the University are invited to contact us.
Science and Policy Studies CIG launched (cont.)
The inaugural meeting focussed on the complexities and non-linear nature of the relationship between science and policy, and on the significance of networks. Events such as those surrounding Professor Nutt and the University of East Anglia emails excite media attention, but often fail to illuminate the complexity of the roles of evidence and expert advice. Susan Owens, one of the conveners of the CIG, offered four conceptual models of the science-policy interface: one grounded in technical rationality (the much-criticised but very persistent model of the expert "speaking truth to power"); one in political rationality (the equally familiar "cherry picking" of science by government to legitimate decisions); one in cognitive agency (through which the policy frame might be changed); and one emerging from Science and Technology Studies, which emphasises the 'co-production' of science and policy in complex and contested areas. Building on such ideas, the group proposes to challenge both positive and normative accounts of how science relates to policy and how the relationship is represented, and to explore the critical issues around trust and what counts as "evidence".
The meeting also considered practical experiments in the development of the science-policy interface, including horizon scanning to identify "unknown unknowns", the generation of long-lists of questions arising in the gap between researchers and policy makers, the identification of where political change can happen and insight can make a difference, and finally the role of personal engagement between policy makers and scientists over specific questions. It would also be possible to take particular cases and analyse the science-policy interface in detail; such case studies might be based on the work of other CIGs, or other instances known to the team (e.g. the evolution of the European Water Framework Directive and its implementation) which reveal the messy and non-linear nature of the process. The meeting decided to develop this discussion further through a core group, and to consider a possible workshop with policy makers on the subject of "the evidence for evidence-based policy". Commenting at the meeting, Dr David Cleevely, CSaP's Founding Director, said: "The process of getting science into policy is messy precisely because it's a human process, full of feedback loops, and a collaboration between many disciplines. We need to go beyond thinking that just because a scientific idea is correct, it will influence policy; we need to understand how the process really works, and how it can be made more effective."
Building the Whitehall bridgehead (cont.)
Discussion centred on the most effective way in which the CSaP can engage with policy makers across government - identifying key topics and the implications of new research at an early stage in the policy cycle, and broadening the networks of the CSAs to support them in their day-to-day work in the later phases of the process. Of particular interest was an interdisciplinary challenge-led approach in which the CSaP would open up perspectives on issues, enabling policy makers to look at a diverse range of issues in non-compartmentalised ways before focussing resources on particular approaches. Philip Rycroft, Director General for Innovation and Enterprise in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), summarised the approach as "having great potential to bring innovative perspectives to bear on public policy problems."
Key to the process is engagement. Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Non-Executive Chairman of BBSRC and a member of the CSaP's Executive Committee, emphasised the importance of trust and understanding between academics and government, and the role of long-term relationships in building such trust. His thoughts were echoed by Dr David Cleevely, CSaP Founding Director, who commented: "Networking is at the heart of CSaP. This is about putting people together and building an infrastructure complementary to those that already exist within government and between policy makers. There are many effective networks in place - our role is to support and extend them."
CSaP News in Brief
Policy Fellowships. Following discussions at recent consultation meetings, the Centre is currently designing a programme to bring senior policy makers from government and industry to Cambridge for bespoke residential fellowships of 2-4 weeks (potentially phased over 2 or 3 visits). These "Policy Fellowships" will include meetings with senior academics as well as access to lectures, seminars, CIG meetings and workshops. Policy Fellows will have a nominated academic host, and will enjoy college accommodation and dining rights. A small fee will be levied to meet part of the cost. If you would like to be considered for the programme, or wish to nominate a candidate, please contact us.
Civil Service Exchange Scheme. During January, the Centre was pleased to welcome Anne Hollowday to Cambridge, on secondment from the Government Office for Science within BIS. Anne was the first placement under the civil service/academia exchange scheme being run by GO-Science in consultation with Research Councils UK and Universities UK.
Cambridge Zero Carbon. A consultation meeting held on 18 December 2009 discussed whether the CSaP has a role to play in catalysing discussions on regional decarbonisation, and in drawing out the wider policy implications of such discussions for the relevant departments of government (CLG, DECC, DEFRA, BIS and the regional bodies).
The $100 Genome. On 22 December 2009 the CSaP held an internal consultation meeting under the banner The $100 Genome, which may lead on to the formation of a CIG on the policy implications of recent rapid advances in human genomics. The group plans to hold a meeting on 12 May 2010 with guest speaker Professor Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. If you're interested in this topic please contact us.
Behavioural change. A consultation meeting held on 8 December 2009 brought together senior social scientists from a range of disciplines (including law, psychology, behavioural science and criminology) to discuss issues of behavioural change which had been highlighted by the CSaP's advisory group.
Annual Report published. The CSaP's first Annual Report has been published, covering the activities of the Centre in 2009 and the roadmap for 2010 and beyond. The report can be downloaded from the CSaP website.
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.