Science and Policy Research Questions Workshop

11 April 2011


The CSaP Science and Policy Studies group’s programme to identify key questions concerning the critical relationship between science and policy took a major step forward on 7 April.

After issuing a call for questions, receiving 250 interesting and insightful responses, and collating them, 7 April was the day of the workshop during which the list would be refined and the most important selected.

45 prominent researchers and policy professionals, from a cross-section of science and policy research and practice fields, convened at the Møller Centre in Cambridge. Using a method devised by the workshop’s chair, William Sutherland, the delegates worked together to refine and whittle 250 questions down to just 40.

Sponsored by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Society of Biology, the workshop was tremendously stimulating and the feedback extremely positive. Professor Peter Littlejohns, Clinical and Public Health Director at NICE, said of the workshop: “It was very impressive to witness how complex issues were dealt with in such an efficient, but informal and relaxed, way”.

Much of the day was spent in breakout groups, each working through a subset of questions. Selecting which of the groups to join was challenging because each was so interesting in its own right. They were:

  • Conceptualising Relations between Science and Policy (chaired by Andy Clements)
  • Structures and Institutions of Scientific Advice (Andrew Pullin)
  • Communication and Knowledge Transfer (Sue Hartley)
  • Understanding Policy Processes, Politics and Values (John Robinson)
  • Public Accountability and Citizen Participation (Keith Richards)
  • How are Issues Identified and Questions Framed? (Robert Doubleday)
  • Experts and Expertise (Charles Godfray)
  • Evidence – selection and evaluation (Susan Owens)
  • Uncertain, Provisional and Plural Knowledge (Miles Parker)
  • Methods of Assessment and Analysis (Chris Tyler)
  • Understanding Policies for Science, Research & Education (Andy Stirling)
  • Comparative Questions (Judith Petts)

Once these breakout groups had selected their top questions, everyone reconvened to narrow down and refine the selection further. This process sparked lively and useful debate and has set the scene for a period of further communications before the list of top 40 questions is finalised. Some of the questions are about the science-policy relationship as observed and conceptualised, and others are more normative questions about ‘how it ought to be’. They should make for a interesting and, we hope, influential academic paper.

Society of Biology


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