Newsletter October 2009
Welcome to the third 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:
- Global Water Initiative highlights regional challenges
- Can case studies capture the impact of science?
- Creating Centre Interest Groups
- CSaP news in brief:
- Civil service/academia exchange - pilot scheme
- CSaP in America
- Distinguished Lecture Series
Global Water Initiative highlights regional challenges As trailed in our July/August newsletter, scientists from Africa, the University of Cambridge, and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) met with policy experts in Cambridge in September to develop an urgent action plan for adaptation to the impacts of regional climate change on African water supplies. The workshop - promoted by the CSaP and the Centre for Energy Studies, as part of the Global Water Initiative - is an example of how CSaP seeks to support and build on existing links between research groups and policy makers. More...
Can case studies capture the impact of science?The CSaP's latest workshop, held jointly with RAND Europe on 19 October at St John's College, brought together senior physical and social scientists and engineers from the University to discuss the use of case studies to inform decision-making. The meeting asked how case studies can help in understanding what works in science policy - in particular, are they useful forms of evidence, or exclusively a tool for advocacy? What methods exist for comparing case studies and collapsing their complexity into comparable units? The meeting considered studies conducted for (among others) the UK Department of Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, MRC and Arthritis Research Council - studies designed to capture the processes through which research succeeds and the routes it takes to impact. More...
Creating Centre Interest Groups The creation of Centre Interest Groups proceeds apace, and the CSaP expects to announce the first such groups shortly - based on current discussions relating to the value of ecosystems services (bringing together conservationists, economists, epidemiologists, modellers, physicists, zoologists, and experts in the evaluation of risk, to provide insight for policy makers in DEFRA and DfID); emergent behaviour and regulation of networks (bringing together experts on all aspects of networks with policy makers in DfT, DECC and BIS, particularly on matters relating to security, resilience, self-recognition and inherent regulation); social, political and governance aspects of science and policy (bringing together social scientists to investigate how policy and political processes themselves shape conceptions of what constitutes "good science" or "reliable evidence"); Cambridge 2040 (focussing on the opportunities to create zero-carbon cities, with Cambridge as a case study, for DCLG, DECC and DfT, and GO-East); and public health and genomic medicine (based around the work of the PHG Foundation and a number of medical research institutes in the University, coming together to produce a response to the House of Lords report).
Global Water Initiative highlights regional challenges (cont.)
The workshop emphasised the need to deploy today's technology quickly to enable data-sharing between Africa and the West - in particular to facilitate the exchange of scientific knowledge among African scientists familiar with the continent's problems. The proposed development of locally-tailored internet products for farmers and decision-makers, with built-in feedback, could see the first application of Web 2.0 in Africa. As Lord Julian Hunt of CCES commented: "In order to adapt quickly, farmers and communities must track their local climate and communicate this to the scientific community, governments and regional agencies, especially where change is rapid and severe. Likewise, scientists and decision-makers must form new regional links to better translate scientific findings to support rapid action by policy makers."
The conference highlighted the pressing need for new regional initiatives. In particular, it concluded that "Knowledge Action Cooperatives" are necessary to facilitate communication and action between scientists, policy makers, and the community of practice in regions that will be hardest hit by climate change. For regional adaptation to be successful, attention must be focused on capacity building to train African scientists on African problems in Africa. At the end of the workshop, UCSD and Cambridge agreed to form two working groups - one on water supply and demand, and the other on energy in the built environment. Each group will produce a short white paper by the end of the year. For further information on the workshop click here.
Can case studies capture the impact of science? (cont.)
Although the headlines are grabbed by calculations such as the economic rate of return on research investment, the case study approach is intended to provide a richer context for understanding how research has impact. It also aims to address the "attribution problem" - i.e. what causal links can be established between an investment and an outcome. RAND considers case studies a valuable form of evidence to inform science policy, complemented by other research methods such as surveys, bibliometrics and social network analysis. The ability to compare and generalise case study results is built around the use of careful selection and (in a science policy context) a "payback model", which provides a structure for analysing impacts on policy, society and the economy.
The case study work discussed at the workshop demonstrates the diversity of impacts produced by medical research - new therapies, new skills and improved health; the value in allowing researchers discretion in how they spend their research grants; and the importance of the individual in driving the translation of their research towards impact. The workshop discussed how the choice of timeframe can determine the result - for example, studies of short-term impacts might tend to emphasise the role of institutes, but if the term is extended the role of universities scores more highly; moreover, some benefits from "pure" research do not accrue until much later, when the technologies to apply them (such as computing power) catch up. Discussion at the workshop also considered the risks of the approach where the best answer to a problem might be an outlier, or where power laws rather than normal distributions apply, but also recognised the role of long-term case studies in refining conceptual models and reducing uncertainty about how the research process itself works.
The CSaP expects to continue this investigation through a Centre Interest Group on the social, political and governance aspects of science, as well as contributing directly to the mechanisms by which scientific research can be brought to bear on policy formation.
CSaP News in Brief
Civil service/academia exchange - pilot scheme. Would your research group benefit from hosting a policy maker on an exchange scheme? The Government Office for Science, in consultation with Research Councils UK and Universities UK, is piloting a scheme in which civil servants will spend a week with academic hosts in research groups relevant to their policy areas. As well as undertaking a pre-agreed programme of work, during this week the civil servant and the academic would start work towards a follow-up event or policy briefing. Academics participating in the scheme will develop insights into how government works and make contacts with relevant policy makers. The CSaP is strongly supporting this initiative, which could lead on to the identification of Visiting Fellows within relevant Centre Interest Groups. Members of the University interested in hosting a policy maker are invited to contact us.
CSaP in America. Throughout 2009, the CSaP has been holding consultations to discuss and prioritise key topics, identify what scientific expertise should be brought to bear, and decide how best to engage senior government officials - and thus to ensure that it remains responsive to the ever-changing context of both research and policy-making. The latest phase of this programme took the Centre's Founding Director, David Cleevely, to the USA in September for a programme of meetings that covered a wide range of relevant bodies in academia (Belfer Center, Georgetown University, Harvard, MIT) to discuss models for the science-policy interface and potential collaboration; in government (including the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, the Department of Energy, and the Critical Infrastructure team in the Treasury); in the British Embassy, whose potential role in hosting events and effecting introductions will be invaluable to the CSaP; and a large number of Cambridge alumni and entrepreneurs.
Distinguished Lecture Series. The inaugural lecture in the CSaP's Distinguished Lecture Series, to be delivered on 18 January 2010 by David Mackay FRS (newly-appointed Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change), will explore lessons and insights from his first 100 days in government. Subsequent lectures in the series will cover a range of topics that closely reflect the interests and activities of the Centre, and will be delivered by eminent scientists, government advisers, policy makers and industry leaders. Lectures will start at 5.30pm in Judge Business School and will allow time for questions and debate, as well as providing networking opportunities at the post-lecture drinks reception. Topics and speakers will be announced on 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.