Newsletter September 2010
Message from the Executive Director
I spend most of my time focused on science and policy in the UK, working out of Cambridge and London. But I've spent the last couple of days in the other Cambridge, meeting Harvard academics studying the relationship between science and public policy; and I'm currently in the other Waterloo, speaking at a conference on climate science and policy and contributing to an initiative to improve Canada's use of science in government. Similarly, prior to starting work at the Centre for Science and Policy I spent a month in Auckland, working on science policy for the New Zealand government; and at various times I have also been engaged in discussions about science and policy in China, Japan, Uganda and the EU. Wherever you look, academics and policy professionals alike recognise the importance of science to policy.
It seems strange, then – given the breadth of interest – that the role that science plays in policy remains enigmatic and a matter of debate. The range of issues to which scientific research applies, the range of political cultures in which policy is made, and the range of roles that scientific advisers can play, all combine to make the nature of the relationship between science and policy difficult to pin down. The Centre for Science and Policy is now turning its attention to this problem.
This week our Centre Interest Group on Science and Policy Studies is launching an ambitious programme to identify the most important questions concerning the relationship between science and policy. It will do so in consultation with a wide range of individuals working in policy and academia, and the resulting product will be a consensus view on the key questions and a paper that sets out a workable research agenda.
This project is potentially pivotal: setting the research agenda is at least as important as doing the research. We announce its launch in more detail below, but I thought it important to note that this is a key step in the evolution of CSaP. Unlike most of the other work that we undertake – promoting engagement between researchers and policy professionals in specific research and policy areas – this is a foray into the meta-relationship between science and policy. We are looking forward to the experience and hope that your contributions steer us in interesting and novel directions.
In this issue:
Dr Chris Tyler
Science and Policy Key Research Questions Programme
We are delighted to announce the launch of an ambitious and exciting new programme in science and policy research. It is widely accepted that the relationship between science and policy is of critical importance and that there are major unresolved issues; to help set the research agenda, the CSaP Science and Policy Studies Group is running a programme to identify the key research questions. Professor Susan Owens, Dr Rob Doubleday, Professor Keith Richards and Professor William Sutherland this week invited a wide range of individuals and organisations to participate.
The group said: "We are seeking to include questions about the science-policy relationship as observed and conceptualised, as well as more normative questions about 'how it ought to be'. The only condition is that questions should be capable, at least in principle, of being addressed through research." The programme will follow a process developed by Professor William Sutherland and colleagues, which has been used successfully to identify key questions in another field (see here). It will include a call for questions (closing date 10 December 2010); a voting exercise to identify the questions most worthy of discussion (closing date 14 February 2011); and a two-day symposium to agree a final selection (5-7 April 2011).
If you would like to receive further information on how to take part in the Science and Policy Research Questions Programme, please email ReQuest@csap.cam.ac.uk; for more details, including criteria and example questions, please visit the Science and Policy Key Research Questions page on our website.
DECC Workshop on Behaviour and Energy Efficiency
Behaviour change experts and officials responsible for policies to encourage increased energy efficiency met earlier this month in a workshop organised by CSaP for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The UK's targets for reducing carbon emissions are ambitious, and a wide range of tools for emissions reduction merit consideration. The new administration has put considerable emphasis on the role of individuals and communities across a wide range of policy areas, and DECC is embracing this approach to reduce domestic energy usage.
This workshop was intended therefore to kick-start a period of dialogue between officials and academics on behaviour and energy efficiency. It opened on the consensus that economic incentives alone are not sufficient to achieve the necessary greenhouse gas reductions; other more imaginative tools are required. A lively discourse on what had and had not worked in the past was expertly steered by Dr Philip Guildford into a detailed consideration of the theoretical basis upon which it would be possible to construct policies that aim to alter behaviour.
As is usual in CSaP workshops, discussion took place under the Chatham House rule, but feedback following the workshop was very encouraging. Nafees Meah, the Head of Science at DECC, said: "This well facilitated and helpful workshop was very timely as we develop proposals for the Government's flagship Green Deal. For DECC this is the start of an essential dialogue with the academic social science community to help develop practical policies that will deliver the changes that we want to see." Dr Tim Chatterton, an ESRC Fellow seconded to DECC from the University of the West of England, Bristol, called the workshop "a very significant interdisciplinary event, not just in bringing together policy makers and researchers, but also in bringing together social scientists from different disciplines." He added: "This workshop was the highlight of my first six months in government!"