How does academic research contribute to the work of government?

19 February 2015


Reported by Henry Rex, CSaP Policy & Communications Officer.

More than 140 academics and policy makers joined us at the University of Cambridge Old Schools last night for a reception to mark the launch of our latest annual report, and to hear guest speakers discuss how academic research informs the work of government.

You can listen to their talks by clicking on the images below.

“Science is important to the immediate issues of government”

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, spoke about his role as a "transmission mechanism" between Government and the academic community, and highlighted a number of issues where academic research had been crucial in informing government policy during his tenure, such as Bovine TB, the use of neonicotinoids, the floods in 2014, and the Ebola outbreak.

He described a number of ways in which academics could have an impact on policy such as taking up an advisory role or a secondment within a government department or by contributing through membership of a learned society. He emphasised the importance of “timing and agility” and advised researchers in the audience to find a customer for their work as it was more likely to have impact if it was “expected and anticipated”.

“Engaging with policy makers provides a ladder out of the ivory tower”

Professor Ottoline Leyser (Director of the University of Cambridge’s Sainsbury Laboratory) gave an academic perspective on engaging with government. She addressed the question of why academics, who often operate within the ‘ivory tower’ of their field, should engage with government. In her experience, leaving the ivory tower and talking to policy makers and other academics is when the “really interesting” ideas are generated.

“As a policy maker, I am completely dependent on good science”

CSaP Policy Leaders Fellow (PLF), Katrina Williams, (Director General, International, Science and Resilience Group, Department for Energy and Climate Change) described her experience of engaging with academia through the CSaP initiative. Katrina has spent most of her civil service career in DECC and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, and has always had to rely on "good science". She said that policy makers are by nature reductive and have a tendency to simplify complex arguments for ministers, but her participation in the PLF Programme had taught her to value and express complexity.

Read our latest annual report here

(Banner image from Flickr)