Newsletter September 2009
Welcome to the second newsletter from the Centre for Science and Policy - the University of Cambridge's new initiative to cultivate stronger relationships between policy-makers and experts in science and engineering. In this issue:
- First CSaP workshop asks "what price the environment?"
- CSaP and CRASSH look to "Bridge the Gaps"
- The Evolution of the CIG - a Darwinian process
- News on CSaP events
First CSaP workshop asks "what price the environment?" In addition to the well-documented challenge of tackling climate change and preventing further ozone layer depletion, the next great challenge faced by policy-makers addressing sustainability issues is the conservation of Earth's biodiversity. This pressing topic was the basis of the CSaP's first workshop, held jointly with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). Held on 3 September at Trinity Hall, the workshop brought together leading Cambridge researchers and conservation practitioners with DEFRA staff and advisors and representatives from the Department of International Development and the United Nations' Environment Programme. More...
CSaP and CRASSH look to "Bridge the Gaps"The University of Cambridge has decided to put forward a joint proposal from the CSaP and the Centre for Research in the Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH), under the EPSRC's "Bridging the Gaps" fourth call for proposals. "Bridging the Gaps" aims to enable research organisations to stimulate creative thinking across disciplines - an excellent fit with the CSaP's remit to build bridges between the physical and social sciences, technology and engineering, law and philosophy, and policy-makers. More...
The Evolution of the CIG - a Darwinian processThe CSaP is now moving into the next phase of its development - discussing the first wave of potential Centre Interest Groups (CIGs) and formulating the process by which groups will be formed, operated and closed. "The CSaP's methodology for creating and managing these groups draws on the lessons learned from previous initiatives," said Dr. David Cleevely, Founding Director of the CSaP. "Both Cambridge Wireless and the Cambridge-MIT Institute have successfully used the Interest Group model to bring together the relevant parties - the topic-area champions, the experts, industry stake-holders, and interested audiences."More...
First CSaP workshop asks "what price the environment?" (cont.)
Measuring and valuing ecosystems has posed a huge challenge to academics and governments alike, since biological systems are intricately intertwined with the actions of people, and ecological networks are inherently complex. How, for example, can we determine which species are ecosystem lynchpins? How much biodiversity can an ecosystem afford to lose? Can we determine where the "tipping points" are, and should we define this according to its effect on our own standard of living or that of other species?
The debate focussed on the difficulty of putting the characteristics of ecosystems into numbers for cost-benefit analysis and target-setting, the risk of "double counting" ecosystem values, the trade-off between simplicity and accuracy in models, regional variability, and the poor quality of data available on biodiversity. The workshop confirmed DEFRA's commitment to further exploring these issues with the help of Cambridge University's world-leading experts, including economists, epidemiologists, modellers, physicists, zoologists, and experts in the evaluation of risk. The CSaP and CCI are now working together to create a Centre Interest Group specifically to address the needs of biodiversity policy-makers, as identified by the workshop.
CSaP and CRASSH look to "Bridge the Gaps" (cont.)
The CSaP/CRASSH proposal addresses how policy-makers can use the best scientific research more effectively, and how policy and political processes shape our conceptions of what constitutes "good science" and "reliable evidence". If taken forward, its remit would support theoretical research to critically analyse the interrelationships of science, technology, policy and society, whilst also creating new practical interactions between scientific and policy communities, such as case studies within Centre Interest Groups. In addition to funding visiting fellowships for academics, policy-makers, media and industry representatives, CSaP/CRASSH proposes to embed post-doctoral social scientists in science and engineering laboratories in order to encourage greater interdisciplinary understanding.
The focus of the Centre Interest Group case studies would be determined by an advisory committee with broad inter-disciplinary research interests. Candidate subjects for the initial studies include nanotechnology; security and resilience in networks, and sensors and monitoring - a study covering both the benefits and the societal risks of such devices becoming pervasive. Should the proposal be successful, the advisory committee will welcome case study suggestions from Cambridge researchers.
The Evolution of the CIG - a Darwinian process (cont.)
A key role will be that of the conveners - a nucleus of two or three experts in each CIG who will champion the topic and lead the workshops and other meetings. Conveners will make a significant commitment of time (around 10 days per year), but they will be able to draw upon financial, administrative and logistical support from the CSaP. The CSaP will support conveners by organising event venues, arranging note-taking, creating a web presence, sharing contacts and facilitating introductions, and disseminating the academic and policy outputs of the CIGs' work.
"The Centre will provide the CIG conveners with all the practical and administrative support they need to arrange meetings, share information and make networking happen," said David Cleevely. "At the same time, we know that when an Interest Group isn't gelling, it should be shut down - it's really a pure Darwinian process."
The CSaP is now in ongoing discussions with conveners on potential CIGs ranging from low-carbon technology to public health genomics and technological risk, as well as ecosystems valuation - as described in the article above. In line with its mission to help Cambridge academics communicate the vital importance of their work to policy-makers, the CSaP extends an open invitation to researchers in Cambridge to submit topic areas for consideration.
CSaP News in Brief
RAND Europe case study review. Case studies of the translation of science and engineering into public policy - whether successful or otherwise - are few and far between. Even rarer is a methodological framework for making valid comparisons between case studies. One exception is RAND Europe which has been running longitudinal studies in this area for 15 years, mainly focused on medical breakthroughs, particularly around arthritis research. On 19 October, the CSaP and RAND will host a joint workshop to review these case studies and methodologies, and discuss the implications for future policy creation and implementation. The workshop will run from 17.00 till 19.00, followed by dinner at a Cambridge college. This event is by invitation only, but if you are interested, please email email@example.com
Public Health Genomics. Following an 18-month enquiry, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recently produced its report on Genomic Medicine. In collaboration with the Public Health Genomics Foundation, the CSaP will be co-hosting a series of workshops for scientific and clinical experts, policy-makers and specialists addressing the complex ethical, legal and social issues surrounding genomics. Informed by these meetings, a combined strategic response to the Committee's report will be produced in early 2010. For more information visit our website.
Global Water Initiative. More details on the objectives and agenda for the Global Water Initiative workshop on the "Implications of Climate Change and Variability on African Water Resources", as covered in our previous newsletter, are now available on the CSaP website.
Distinguished lecture series. The CSaP's Distinguished Lecture series will be launched on 18 January 2010 with an inaugural lecture by David MacKay FRS, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Recruitment of the CSaP's Executive Director. The CSaP is looking to recruit a full-time Executive Director to take operational responsibility for the Centre, including the CIGs, Fellowship Programmes, fundraising, marketing and general office management. This position will be formally advertised in October 2009. A background in science or engineering, with an interest in policy-making, is preferred. If you know of anyone who would be interested in this role, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A debt of gratitude. The CSaP would like to thank the David Harding Foundation and the Isaac Newton Trust for their donations which made the Centre's creation possible.