Newsletter February 2010
Welcome to the sixth 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:
- The Impact of "Impact"
- Building the Whitehall bridgehead (II)
- Policy Fellows Programme pilot
- CSaP news in brief:
- Distinguished Lecture Series
- Centre Interest Groups
- Discussion on Networking Tools
The Impact of "Impact" Participants in the CSaP's inaugural Associate Seminar on 27 January had a ringside seat as Andy Parker (Professor of High Energy Physics) went head-to-head with Dr David Sweeney (HEFCE's Director of Research, Innovation and Skills) in a debate over assessing the policy impact of scientific research. Also stepping into the ring were Dr Jonathan Grant (President of RAND Europe), who outlined examples of how the difficulties of assessment can be overcome and described the role of "knowledge brokers"; and Professor Bob Watson (Chief Scientific Adviser for DEFRA), who gave real instances of how basic research in Cambridge laid the foundations for vital policy work - particularly research on atmospheric chemistry and fluid dynamics which proved to be key to agreements on combating ozone depletion. More...
Building the Whitehall bridgehead (II)The Centre for Science and Policy held the second of its Whitehall Consultations at the Royal Society in London on 11 February, continuing the process of building the bridgehead in the policy community begun in the first meeting in January. The meeting considered the CSaP's proposed Policy Fellowships programme, and debated the value of policy makers spending occasional short periods of time in Cambridge - not only attending workshops and lectures and meeting senior academics, but also giving seminars for graduate students - in the context of developing ongoing relationships with the Centre and its Interest Groups. Among the key points highlighted were the need for clarity about incentives, both for academics and policy makers, and the importance of breaking down silos by working across disciplines and departments, giving airtime to a range of views and the evidence to support them.More...
Policy Fellows Programme pilot Over the next six months, the CSaP will be piloting its Policy Fellows Programme, designed to provide policy makers with an insight into the role which the sciences and engineering can play in the formulation of public policy. CSaP Policy Fellows will be elected for a two-year period, and will begin their tenure by spending a week in Cambridge (with college accommodation if desired), participating in CIG and other consultation meetings, having pre-arranged meetings with senior academics, attending pre-selected lectures and seminars, and working with the staff of the Centre; they will also have the opportunity to give lectures or seminars for appropriate undergraduate or postgraduate student groups. During the remainder of their tenure, Policy Fellows will be invited to CIG and other Centre events, and will have the opportunity to convene workshops bringing together scientists and policy makers in their own area of expertise.More...
The Impact of "Impact" (cont.)
Challenged by Professor Parker's presentation of the "impact" proposal in the Research Excellence Framework as if it were a funding application (he scored it a "gamma - unfundable"), Dr Sweeney responded robustly that "the real world ain't like that", and that academics must acknowledge the right of an elected government to demand accountability over the expenditure of public money. He defended the broad definition of "impact" in the REF on the grounds that it gives the freedom for all parties to work together to define it. All speakers were equally concerned to preserve serendipity - the unforeseeable impact of basic research on issues which might not even have been identified at the time the research was commissioned - and there was also strong agreement that .the timescales over which research may impact on policy may be very long indeed (for example, 25 years in the case of DNA). The international nature of both research and policy were also emphasised.
Discussion at the seminar highlighted a number of other issues. Professor Susan Owens (one of the conveners of the CSaP's Centre Interest Group on Science and Policy Studies) raised questions around whether the measurement of "demonstrable impact of research on policy" will discriminate effectively between good and bad impacts, or between good and bad policy. Excellence and impact, she observed, did not always go hand in hand, and research could seem to have impact when it legitimised policies and decisions. Subsequent discussions within the CIG have reflected further on the non-linear ways in which scientific research influences policy, and the difficulties that will be faced when it comes to having to assign grades to impact statements. Professor Keith Richards, another of the CIG's conveners, noted that diverse subjects - say, physics and history - will need consistent criteria underlying this process, and not just for the obvious outliers of stellar international impact. The history and philosophy of science might potentially offer guidance on the impact of research, but it will also expose the complex relationship between individual contributions and eventual impacts, and may also sideline the unsung but often indispensable middle ground of "normal science" (in Kuhn's sense) that provides others with an eventual opportunity.
Building the Whitehall bridgehead (II) (cont.)
Dr Graeme Reid, Deputy Director Economic Impact in BIS, argued that the ways in which links between universities and business have developed could be a model for how university-government links could work. He also observed that government has mature and sophisticated links with economists and experts in the law, but less so with scientists. But he also warned against over-engineering the interface between science and policy - there has to be room for experiment and serendipity. Other participants at the meeting emphasised how important it is for academics who study the science-policy interface to gain practical experience of what it's like to work within the policy-making community.
The meeting also considered potential topics, including obesity, innovation, and the future of land use in the UK (building on the recent Foresight study). It also reviewed the range of possible approaches to delivering value to policy makers - events like the workshop on ecosystems for DEFRA, or like those formerly run by CUGPOP; fellowships and secondments of all kinds; rapid response to emerging issues; and managed discussion processes to identify and refine the "100 key scientific questions for policy makers". Winding up the meeting, Chairman Sir Richard Mottram, Former Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, encouraged the participants to spread the word to colleagues across Whitehall. The dialogue will continue with a third meeting on 4 March.
Policy Fellows Programme pilot (cont.)
The scheme is primarily intended for civil servants, elected officials and others directly involved in public policy. It will open in March as a pilot scheme, during which a maximum of four Policy Fellows will be accepted; the pilot is expected to complete in October, followed by a continuing programme. No charge will be made for Policy Fellowships awarded under the pilot scheme (though the Centre reserves the right to make an annual charge for Policy Fellowships awarded thereafter). If you wish to apply for a Policy Fellowship please let us know your objectives, areas of interest, specific senior academics you would like to meet, and weeks when you are available, together with a letter of support from your organisation.
CSaP News in Brief
Distinguished Lecture Series. The second event in the CSaP's distinguished lecture series will be given by Ben Martin, Professor of Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex, on 3 March 2010, with the title "Science policy research: can research influence policy?". The third lecture will be given on 7 June 2010 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.
Centre Interest Group on Biodiversity and Ecosystems. The CSaP and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) have agreed to launch a Centre Interest Group on biodiversity and ecosystems. Following on from last September’s successful workshop on the valuation of ecosystem services for DEFRA and DfID, a series of follow-up events will now be designed to target specific audiences (including other UK government departments) that are less familiar with the natural capital provided by biodiversity and ecosystems and the risks associated with its unsustainable exploitation. If you’re interested in this area please contact us.
Potential Centre Interest Group on "Ageing and Dementia". Carol Brayne (Professor of Public Health Medicine) convened a planning meeting on 10 February, which identified actions towards setting up a CIG on ageing and dementia. Discussion covered issues such as whether preventative care saves or increases costs in the NHS, and the risks of intergenerational strife. A further meeting in March will discuss "mapping" the issues and the possible application of modelling techniques and scenario planning, as the basis for a potential workshop. If you're interested in this area please contact us.
Discussion on Networking Tools. The CSaP held a discussion meeting in January to gather views on what social networking tools - Facebook, LinkedIn, Within3, etc - might be appropriate to support interactions between scientists and policy makers. The meeting discussed the reasons for the success of talks.cam, the needs for security and authentication, and potential links to staff databases. The Centre would be keen to hear from anyone interested in helping to develop such tools. Meanwhile, the CSaP website (www.csap.org.uk) will be relaunched in March with a redesigned home page featuring the Centre's latest news.
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.