Elizabeth Surkovic: Case study

at Government Office for Science (GO-Science)

Deputy Director, Science in Government, Government Office for Science

27 August 2013

CSaP's Policy Challenge on Emergency Behaviours provided an important stimulus for the development of a behavioural science checklist, which enables risk holders in government to incorporate behavioural science advice into their emergency planning.

In brief the Fellowship was exhilarating and exhausting, both mentally and physically – and I cannot recommend it more highly.

The basis of my Fellowship was "risk". It took me some time to craft my specific questions; looking back that was helpful, as it allowed me to test my own thoughts. That having been said, I had been advised (and I would pass on that advice) not to hanker after a focused discussion on the questions – it's not what the process is about. CSaP uses the questions to set up connections, and they are then the loose basis of discussion. It was the open discussion that I found so valuable and allowed me to arrive at answers, thoughts and ideas I would never have come up with before my week in Cambridge.


The conversations were a privilege. The best of them were essentially 1:1 "supervisions" (in Cambridge terms), or as many of us would know them, tutorials. I was given a great line up of academics. In hindsight the more unlikely the link to my questions, the more exciting the conversation. For example, I was given a lot of time in the Cambridge Geography Department. The range of skills and the very thoughtful processes I was exposed to were wonderful. Separately, Huw Price – despite being in the middle of setting up a Centre for the study of existential risk – generously gave me hours of his time and intellect.

On a more social note, what I had not expected was the degree to which CSaP and the Fellows of Pembroke give a little taste of College life. This was just plain fun as well as giving an opportunity to learn about ontological insecurity, a concept I have since applied!


So what have I done with all of this? The cateogory of 'personal reaction' has been added to all the case studies that make up the National Risk Register. GO Science has used insights from the Policy Challenge Briefing on Emergency Behaviours as the basis for a policy checklist for emergency response planners and managers. To date, they have trialled the checklist with one topic (space weather), and plan to trial it more widely in the future with a range of different risks.

Another output has been the direct access to various experts, in various ways – direct briefings for myself or colleagues from leading academics, or the ability to use the CSaP relationship to organise events where a neutral space for expert engagement is required. Perhaps most importantly, thoughts and new ideas to develop policy have been woven in, and a number of these are currently being worked up in a new work area.

  • Projects

    Policy challenge: Emergency behaviours

    The question of ‘how can government better understand how the public behaves in an emergency situation?’ was addressed in this policy challenge. You can download the report here.