Developing a generation of scientific advisors in STEM

21 January 2020


Reported by CSaP Policy Intern Riccardo Wysoczanski (Jan - April 2020)

How can future leaders in the engineering and physical sciences contribute to policymaking?

At a workshop hosted at Churchill College earlier this month, CSaP and the Bennett Institute explored how we can work to foster the development of a generation of scientific advisors from the STEM fields who can effectively engage with public policy.

Opening the session, Professor Dame Athene Donald, Master of Churchill College, called for more scientists to join and engage with the civil service in order to foster knowledge exchange. The importance of effective knowledge exchange and knowledge translation was a recurring theme throughout the session, with Professor Diane Coyle emphasizing that clear, concise and accessible communication of scientific information is vital to ensuring that policymakers can understand, explain, and share the findings of scientific advice.

Scientific advice is imperative to good policymaking, and scientific advisors can influence change in political debate without getting political. This scientific input is crucial because, as highlighted by Philip Rycroft, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union, government is complex, and policymakers are often experts in how government works rather than experts in specific technical components of specific policy areas. Moreover, where policymakers already have problems and solutions on their radar, they may still require support in finding the appropriate tools to change behaviours. Consequently, building relationships between those in STEM and policymakers is vital for creating dialogues and narratives which can help get the key messages of scientific advice across. In the digital age, social media can be a useful way of bolstering this communications process.

Other avenues for engaging with policymaking and knowledge dissemination include the dissemination of knowledge through publishing and outreach and participation in learned societies, whose work supports public engagement, policy and setting professional standards within disciplines.

In his final remarks of the day, CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday reflected that science and policy are not discrete fields, and that interdisciplinary approaches to policymaking is often the best way forward for successful communication and problem solving.


Photo Credit: NIH Image Gallery -