Professional Development Policy Workshop: Science and 21st Century Leadership

27 April 2015


Reported by Henry Rex, CSaP Policy & Communications Officer.

Earlier this month, CSaP teamed up with the Churchill Archives Centre to deliver a workshop (as part of the Churchill Statesmanship Programme) to provide junior policy makers and early career researchers with an insight into the role of expertise and evidence in policy making. Speakers from both academia and government were invited to discuss their own experiences of gathering and presenting scientific evidence for policy. A list of the key lessons can be downloaded here.

Allen Packwood (Director of the Churchill Archives Centre) welcomed the attendees, before Dr Miles Parker gave a brief introduction to the day. He spoke about the myriad challenges policy makers will have to tackle in the future, and the type of leadership required to solve them.

In the first panel discussion, Professor Stuart Rogers (Chief Scientist, CEFAS) gave a presentation on ‘Cefas as provider of advice and expertise to government.’ He spoke about his role in gathering evidence and providing scientific advice to inform policy, and gave examples both of when the science had been a deciding factor in shaping policy, and of when it was superseded by other considerations.

Graham Pendlebury (Department of Transport) was up next. He outlined 6 key ways academic researchers could get involved in policy making, and described policy making as a 3-ring circus, where the evidence, political considerations and do-ability all have to be balanced.

The final speaker on the panel was Sir Richard Mottram, (former Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office), who described the different dimensions to policy making, and spoke about how departments tend to use established networks of experts, but that these networks are often geared towards tackling historical, rather than future, challenges.

The second session was chaired by Professor James Wilsdon (SPRU) who welcomed a panel of experts from academia:

Professor Peter Guthrie (Director, Centre for Sustainable Development, Cambridge) spoke about his time on the DEFRA Scientific Advisory Council, offering an academic’s perspective on how evidence is absorbed into government.

Professor David Spiegelhalter (Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, Cambridge) then spoke about the various policy initiatives he’s been involved with (the Keogh review for PIP Implants, the debates around the Meningitis B vaccine and Plain Packaging of Cigarettes), and he outlined the circumstances in which evidence can have a significant impact upon policy.

Dr Stephen John (Lecturer in the Philosophy of Public Health, Cambridge) described his various efforts to get involved in policy making, which he labelled ‘failures’. This led to a discussion about why similar efforts can fail, what can be done to combat the causes of this failure, and assessing what it means to have ‘impact’ on policy.

The third session saw the attendees divide into groups to prepare for an ‘elevator pitch’ to recommend a policy to a ‘minister’. Addressing the issue of minimum pricing of alcohol and the ban on below-cost selling, they had an hour to work in 'policy teams' and to prepare their recommendations. Jennifer Rubin (RAND EUROPE) sportingly took on the role of minister, and of the 6 groups, 5 advised her to keep the ban. The pitches explored the available evidence and a range of issues, all in the context of the politically possible and practicable.

A final discussion with Dame Athene Donald looked at the main challenges and road blocks in linking scientific advice to policy making, and exploring what recommendations could be made to government for improving policy making. The discussion demonstrated that there was an enormous appetite on both sides for engagement, but uncertainty from both on how to approach the other. This highlighted the importance of forging networks and relationships based on trust.

  • 13 November 2015, 10am

    The Challenge of Political Leadership

    This symposium will build on the Science and 21st Century Leadership workshop that the Churchill Archives Centre ran with the Centre for Science earlier this year, and will provide an opportunity for further reflection in both a historical and contemporary context.