Newsletter June 2010
Welcome to the tenth newsletter from the Centre for Science and Policy - the University of Cambridge's initiative to strengthen relationships between policy makers and experts in the sciences and engineering. In this issue:
- Working on the Inside - the wide range of opportunities for scientists to work inside policy making, discussed at CSaP's latest Associate Seminar
- Is it too late to save the environment? - the CSaP's third Distinguished Lecture considered what can be done to break the "deadly embrace" of government and the media
- CSaP news in brief:
- Policy Fellows and secondments
- Engagement with DECC
- "Policy Fen"
- Pathways to impact
Working on the InsideScientists who go to work in government enter a world very different from academia, explained a panel of CSaP Associates at our second Associate Seminar, chaired by Professor Lynn Gladden, pro-VC for Research, on 14 June. But it is worth learning how the civil service works and how policy is made, because there is much to be achieved, in terms of both promoting evidence-based policy and generating impact from research.
Interesting, insightful and honest presentations (see here for summaries) from Professor Michael Kelly, former Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) at the Department of Communities and Local Government, Dr Rob Doubleday, former secondee to the Government Office for Science, Dr Eoin O'Sullivan, former secondee to BIS's Science and Research Group, and Professor Frank Kelly, former CSA at the Department for Transport, sparked a lively discussion among the fifty-strong audience under the Chatham House Rule. More...
Is it too late to save the environment?Sarah Mukherjee delivered the CSaP's third Distinguished Lecture having recently left her role as the BBC's Environment Correspondent. She promised a commentary unmuffled by institutional constraints, and she delivered handsomely on that promise. Her core argument was that the relationship between the political system and the media is preventing the UK from getting to grips with climate change, and leading us down the path to disaster as surely as the Easter Island settlers who exhausted their resources and perished.
Sarah argued that the UK's political system is not well suited to long-term decision making. For example, she told us about some (unnamed) Conservative MPs who saw environmentalism as a tool to change people's views about the Conservative Party; now that the party is in power, they considered that it should ditch any commitment to a green agenda. This was especially true following the economic crisis - the economy is of primary importance and climate change has been sidelined as an issue. More...
Working on the Inside (cont.)
A wide range of topics was covered, including the various relationships between CSAs and ministers, CSAs and civil servants, CSAs and their colleagues in academia - and between the CSAs themselves and the departments; how CSAs fit into departmental structures and whether they have a role signing off policy; how the US model of greater professional flexibility between academia, industry and government might be promoted in the UK; the role of lobbyists, media and the public in policy formation; the interactions between evidence, policy and politics; and the fate of the Council for Science and Technology.
One line of discussion tackled the issue of succession planning: where is the next generation of CSAs going to come from? What role can the Centre for Science and Policy play in cultivating and nurturing scientists with an ability and passion for communication and policy? Much of the work we do is focussed in this area, not only by supporting the Centre Interest Groups through which scientists can engage with and learn from policy makers, but also by providing opportunities for scientists to work in government, and for policy makers to spend time in the University meeting scientists (through our Policy Fellowship Programme).
We are planning to run a similar seminar in London later this year to pursue these discussions further.
Is it too late to save the environment? (cont.)
David Cameron and Nick Clegg both 'get' climate change. So why is there no action? Sarah proposed three reasons. Firstly, public opinion and the media. Since 2009, following the 'Climategate' scandal, the media has been less enthusiastic and certain about climate change science, and the public has followed suit. Politics follows public opinion - or its proxies, newspaper columnists and focus groups - and so climate change has slipped down the political agenda.
Secondly, public opinion and the energy gap. By 2020, two-thirds of our electricity-generating capacity needs to be replaced. How can this possibly be achieved? Why was it not sorted years ago? Because the last thing on the minds of people taking part in focus groups is energy concerns. They are more concerned with things that affect them now: health, education, jobs and so on. When the lights go out, the energy gap will be a real issue and bring climate change with it.
Thirdly, NGOs. It is ironic, considering their aims, that NGOs have played a significant part in slowing down action, particularly at an international level. When international climate change negotiations started, there were relatively few people present. The meetings now are inoperably large; the NGOs attended Copenhagen in such large numbers that they effectively collapsed the meeting from the inside.
Sarah concluded by suggesting that the root cause of the problem was the "deadly embrace" of the political and media classes. To break this deadly embrace, our education system needs to refocus so that it produces a population of individuals who are equipped to understand the complexity of the scientific process and the kinds of risks and trade-offs that issues such as climate change present. If we are to escape the worst of climate change, major changes will have to be made. Sarah cautioned that we should look at those Easter Island statues very carefully; that could be Big Ben.
You can read a fuller write up of Sarah's lecture here.
CSaP News in Brief
Policy Fellows. Two more Policy Fellows joined us this month: Alice Raine, Assistant Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Dr Jo Dally, Head of Briefings, Guidance and Secretariat team in the Government Office for Science.
Alice found her time in the University very productive, commenting "Everyone has been so interesting... I have enjoyed hearing about lots of different research projects across a number of different university departments... The Centre is a welcome stepping stone for people like me who couldn't possibly know all of the expertise available in the Cambridge area, and I feel very lucky to have been approached to take part in this scheme."
Jo, who is due to return to the University for another two days next month, told us that "Spending time with the Centre provided me with an excellent perspective on the expertise and research that Cambridge has at its fingertips. I found my meetings with members of the university to be both interesting and informative, and my colleagues and I have already followed up with several people having identified clear linkages between our areas of work... I look forward to engaging further with the Centre."
Secondment to BIS. Over the next couple of months, Dr Tim Vorley, from the Department of Geography, will spend time in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills working on a project entitled "Ensuring Excellence: An Assessment of Progressive Pathways for Promoting World-Class University Research in the UK". We look forward to keeping you posted on Tim's experience working in government as a CSaP Associate.
Engagement with DECC. On 3 June, the CSaP took part in a 4CMR event that brought together a number of environmental specialists in the University with representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Environment Agency. Following a productive discussion, DECC has asked the CSaP to help with idea generation relating to behaviour and cutting carbon emissions.
Policy Fen. 16 June saw the first meeting of a new initiative from RAND Europe to bring together key players in public policy in and around the Cambridge area. The CSaP was present, along with representatives from the Government Office for the East of England, the East of England Development Agency, the Centre for Industry and Government, Cambridge City Council and Cambridge Network, among others. Discussion included how policy makers and researchers in public policy can benefit most from one another; a topic close to our hearts!
Pathways to impact. The CSaP is helping Cambridge researchers to prepare impact summaries (now known as "pathways to impact") in their grant applications. Alongside the more familiar economic impacts, Research Councils now look for evidence that proposers have considered how their research might promote evidence-based policy making, enhance the capacity and knowledge of public policy organisations, or develop the skills that academics need in order to pursue careers at the science/policy interface. CSaP's routes to the policy community are recognised in the University and in Whitehall as being both highly efficient in the use of time, and effective in the senior relationships which are created.
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.