Newsletter May 2010
Welcome to the ninth 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:
- What will be the impact of the "$100 Genome"?
- Policy Fellows programme launched
- Science, expertise and the policy process
- CSaP news in brief:
- Upcoming lectures and seminars
- Policy for energy and climate change
- Pathways to impact
What will be the impact of the "$100 Genome"?"Every so often, a scientific advance offers new opportunities for making real advances in medical care... sequencing of the human genome, and the knowledge and technological advances that accompanied this landmark achievement, represent such an advance." This - the headline conclusion of the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee's 2009 report Genomic Medicine - formed the starting point for a series of workshops hosted by the PHG Foundation and the CSaP between January and March this year. The results of these workshops were published on 18 May in the PHG Foundation's report Genomic Medicine: An Independent Response, which warns that "while the rate of scientific and technological progress has been underestimated, the importance of genomics for the prediction and prevention of common complex diseases has been overestimated." It also proposes that there should be a focus on areas such as implementing tests and services for inherited diseases, where evidence for health benefits already exists, and that an independent body should be created to evaluate the effectiveness of diagnostic testing. More...
Policy Fellows programme launchedMay saw the launch, in pilot form, of our Policy Fellowship Programme, with week-long visits to Cambridge by Lucia Costanzo (Head of EU Research Policy in the International Science and Innovation Unit of BIS) and Michael Eaton (Director of the Public Sector Broadband Aggregation Network for the Welsh Assembly Government). As well as taking part in our scheduled events in the week of their visits, Lucia and Michael had a packed programme of one-on-one meetings with senior academics relevant to their policy responsibilities. Both Lucia and Michael will return to Cambridge over the next two years for further discussions, and to bring their expertise and insights to the Centre's seminar series and relevant courses in the University. More...
Science, expertise and the policy process The Conveners of CSaP's Centre Interest Group on Science and Policy Studies met at the end of April to kick off an initiative under the working title Science, Expertise and the Policy Process - 25 key questions. Through a process of wide consultation culminating in a workshop in 2011, and using a tried and tested approach to determining the most important answerable (but as yet unanswered) questions in a specified domain, the group intends to focus attention on the key issues in evidence-based policy making - such as why and when is evidence to inform policy considered "sound"? What role does trust between experts and policy makers play in deciding what counts as reliable evidence? How are the concepts of "authority" and "independence" constructed? And ultimately, what is the evidence that evidence-based policy is better?More...
What will be the impact of the "$100 Genome"? (cont.)
The Centre for Science and Policy's role in this response was to co-ordinate and host a series of five day-long workshops involving a wide range of independent experts - medical researchers, clinicians, epidemiologists, informaticians, social scientists, ethical and legal experts, and NHS policy makers - designed to gather the full spectrum of expertise and focus it on generating practical recommendations for government and other policy groups. The positive experience of bringing together leading interdisciplinary experts on genomic medicine, and the clear and concrete results of so doing, have led to a demand for more work in this area. We are therefore continuing our partnership with the PHG Foundation through the formation of the $100 Genome Centre Interest Group to explore the potential policy impacts of high-throughput sequencing, and the opportunities for health benefit, wealth creation and possibly even savings in healthcare costs which it may present in the long term.
To mark the launch of the PHG Foundation's report and the formation of the CIG, the CSaP hosted a dinner discussion on 12 May for over 60 international experts from public health, genetics, bioethics, health economics, epidemiology, pharmaceutical/biotech, NGOs and national funding bodies, together with senior policy makers from the Department of Health. The participants discussed a keynote speech by Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, which was one of the leading UK funders of the original human genome project. Although producing the first human genome cost billions of dollars, the $100 genome is now a feasible prospect. Sir Mark emphasised that "there should be no limit to discovery with respect to health and disease"; applications of genomic sequencing for health, he argued, do not raise any fundamental new ethical issues not previously explored within the context of either clinical genetics or medical imaging. "Genetic research and discovery must not be limited," he concluded, "but findings must be used responsibly"; legal constraints would be appropriate to prevent some possible abuses, such as identity theft, but ultimately self-regulation in a free global market might be the best way to realise the clinical, social and research benefits of these breakthrough technologies.
Policy Fellows programme launched (cont.)
The feedback received from this pilot phase of the programme was very promising. Michael commented: "I found the planned week to be very useful, timely, enjoyable and informative, enabling me to firmly engage on the policy and delivery topics that are most pressing in my area. Gaining an understanding of areas of scientific, technological and organisational behaviour work taking place across the University - and the individuals involved - will have a real bearing on my next steps over the coming year." Lucia added: "I found the time I spent with CSaP immensely valuable. It gave me the opportunity to gain in-depth exposure to the University and its engagement with the wider science community. It also allowed me to gain a clearer picture of how the EU research agenda impacts on researchers at Cambridge - providing real insights that will inform my ongoing policy work." The Fellows also commented on the value of an intense (if brief) immersion in the University, not only because it made efficient use of time away from the office, but also because of the chance to gain insight into "what makes academics in research tick" and to consider policy and research from a fresh perspective.
We were also pleased that Cambridge researchers welcomed the opportunity to meet the policy makers, noting the value that they had gained by "getting a window into the policy environment". There is evidence here of positive engagement that has deepened the understanding between the researchers and policy makers involved. We will continue to work with these individuals to maintain the connections and grow the network of engagement further; we will also explore the opportunities for seconding scientists into Whitehall, as suggested by a number of the participants in the current pilot.
In June we welcome two more Policy Fellows: Alice Raine (Assistant Chief Scientific Adviser, BIS) and Joanna Dally (Head of Briefings, Guidance and Secretariat, Government Office for Science). We welcome applications from future Policy Fellows.
Science, expertise and the policy process (cont.)
The approach to gathering and refining the key questions has been used successfully in a number of scientific domains by Professor William Sutherland, who (together with Professor Alan Hughes) will be collaborating with the CIG Conveners in this exercise. The process will be led by Professor Susan Owens, whose experience in evidence-based policy making includes membership of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Office of Science and Innovation's review of science in DEFRA. The group intends to collaborate widely with policy practitioners (covering both politicians and their advisers, from Westminster and Whitehall, the devolved administrations, think-tanks and NGOs), industrialists concerned with research and public policy, the Royal Society and other bodies. It will involve a wide range of academics who study the processes whereby the sciences and engineering influence policy - most of whom, it is expected, will be from outside Cambridge.
The initiative will begin with the gathering of questions using an open and inclusive process, reaching out to the broadest possible community in order to bring together all the questions which are exercising those who operate at or study the interface between science and policy. An initial collation process will eliminate duplication and exclude merely rhetorical, debating or normative questions; the resulting long-list will be circulated around this same community for voting, and those questions which do not attract any votes will be eliminated. At this point in the process, a workshop will be convened to structure the list and whittle it down to the top 25 questions. It is expected that the final list will be published in a leading journal as well as presented to policy makers; past experience suggests that the exercise will have a significant impact on research agendas.
CSaP News in Brief
Workshop on behavioural responses to infectious disease outbreaks. Cambridge researchers will be among those presenting the policy implications of their work at a workshop in London on 11 June exploring how individuals may change their behaviour in response to outbreaks of infectious diseases (with particular reference to lessons from the swine 'flu pandemic). The workshop will be of interest to those involved in healthcare policy generation, epidemiological and economic modellers, and health psychology researchers. To register click here.
Associate Seminar Series. A few places are still available for the Associate Seminar Working on the Inside - opportunities for scientists to work inside policy making on 14 June at 4.00, with a panel including Dr Rob Doubleday (ESRC Policy Placement Fellow at the Government Office for Science), Professor Michael Kelly (former CSA in the Department for Communities and Local Government), Professor Frank Kelly (former CSA in the Department for Transport), and Dr Eoin O'Sullivan (Senior Policy Fellow, Institute for Manufacturing). If you would like to attend please contact us.
Distinguished Lecture Series. The journalist and broadcaster Sarah Mukherjee will give her lecture Our Easter Island Moment: is it already too late to save the environment? on 7 June 2010, focussing on the need for leadership and strategic thinking in policy making for the environment. If you would like to attend the lecture please contact us to confirm whether any places are available.
Policy analysis for energy and climate change. CSaP will join other Cambridge organisations - Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, the Electricity Policy Research Group, Cambridge Econometrics, E3 Foundation, and the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership - in a meeting with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on 3 June, designed to identify key areas where the University and partners might collaborate with DECC to develop and assess policy scenarios and instruments.
Pathways to impact. The Centre for Science and Policy 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, among other things, 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 (such as chief scientific advisers). CSaP's routes to the policy community – through focussed high-level workshops, secondments and fellowships – 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.