CSaP hosts MPs panel discussion on the role of evidence and expertise in policy

15 May 2014


What role does evidence and networks of expertise play in the policy development process? This was the question that science spokespersons from the three main Westminster parties – Liam Byrne (Shadow Minister, Business, Innovation and Skills), Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge) and David Willets (Minister for Universities and Science) – were asked to address at CSaP's annual conference last month.

Expertly chaired by Jill Rutter (Institute for Government) – who described the time constraints, opinions and values of politicians as often "getting in the way of policy making" – our distinguished guests presented their views.

View the debate here:

Liam Byrne highlighted the "priority and potential" for the type of work done by CSaP [in policy making] which he felt would dramatically increase over the next parliament, as budgets go down. "When you are taking money out of the system" he said, "you do need good advice on what is going to do the least damage."

Julian Huppert followed by saying that evidence wasn't always available when needed, and therefore decisions had to be made without it. He referred to 'policy-based evidence' where a policy will already have been decided, before then looking around for the evidence to support it. He noted that although there were things that evidence could not tell you, the connections he had made with academics were invaluable.

Speaking last, David Willets began by commenting on the context of constraints, both upon time and available information, within which politicians – in contrast to academics – operated. He argued that while academics often complained about "the pressure to produce positive results", in politics it was the morning papers that felt like "the journal of negative results". In addition to the highly pressurised political environment, Willets also emphasized other factors that influenced decision-making: far from a straightforward translation of scientific evidence to policy, he noted that political decisions were heavily influenced by a wide range of different kinds of evidence, from moral values to ‘paradigms’ held by each political party.

Banner image from Anthony Albright via CC4.0