Case Study 2022: Lucy Smith

Director General, Strategy and Change, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Lucy Smith is Director General for Strategy and Change at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Here she describes her experience of the Policy Leaders Fellowship programme (2019-2021), and how CSaP's community and access to multidiscplinary expertise has helped her approach policy priorities in government.

I work in a department which, like many others, is having to think in fundamentally different ways about the future. Globally and domestically, we are experiencing a major increase in focus on environmental outcomes as policy makers seek to respond to climate change, protect biodiversity and increase the sustainability and security of food and water for their populations.

CSaP has been a brilliant forum, not only to think about future developments in science and technology and what they mean for policy making, but also to explore new insights into complex systems and global challenges.

For example, in Autumn 2021 we were facing a set of issues across the country due to global supply chain fragility. A CSaP seminar on global supply chains, with a group comprised of policy makers, academics and industry experts who joined academia having previously worked in large companies like Amazon, gave us a chance to think in a much broader way about the dimensions of this problem.

Bringing different perspectives together gave me access to a much more open and wider pool of expertise, as well as some important connections. I shared the contacts I made with other colleagues around government, which led to further valuable conversations. It was genuinely and immediately helpful.

I started the CSaP Fellowship when I was in a very different role, working on the constitution and governance of the UK in the aftermath of the EU referendum. We were going through a fraught time constitutionally as we sought to absorb the outcome of the referendum into our parliamentary system and devolved governance. Internationally in that period, questions were also being posed about the health of democracies and how they would fare against technological and global trends. Having the network and the space to think about the exercise of democracy and the mechanics of democratic systems in a bigger context was hugely helpful for me at that time. CSaP identified a wide range of people for me to talk to from completely different disciplines and over greater timeframes. Having a network of people to reflect with you in a more historic context is a great facility to have.

I have also gained a lot from wider global and scientific perspectives in the policy making process. For example, a series of discussions with academic colleagues at the David Attenborough Institute considered the trade-offs between agricultural production, the planting of trees and restoration of habitats, and the protection of biosecurity, and how we might optimise outcomes. The application of domestic and global lenses brings quite a different view of how we might approach priorities here in the UK.

We are all dealing with a hugely complex set of problems in our jobs. And we’re often dealing with a lot of things with a high degree of pace and urgency. So, being able to have the space, the connections and community to think in a wider and deeper way about that complexity and about the future is an invaluable thing.