Civil Service Fast-streamers and Scientific Researchers team up at Professional Development Workshop

28 May 2019


Reported by Bekki Parrish NERC-funded Policy Intern (May - July 2019)

Early Career Researchers and Civil Servants team up at the latest CSaP Professional Development Policy Workshop

CSaP's latest professional development workshop brought together Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Streamers (SEFS) and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from the University of Cambridge. The aims of the workshop were to provide SEFS with vital experience in utilising academic expertise to tackle policy challenges, and to provide ECRs with an insight into government and how scientific evidence is used in policy decisions, as well as an opportunity to discuss potential new careers. The event also offered an invaluable networking and collaborative experience for attendees.

The workshop consisted of a keynote address, followed by a series of presentations on topical issues from eminent academics. The day concluded with team work where mixed teams of SEFS and ECRs collaborated to prepare a policy statement in response to a contemporary policy challenge.

In conversation with Lord Richard Wilson

The day started with a talk from Lord Richard Wilson, who spoke on his experience at the interface of science and policy throughout his career. He gave impassioned examples which illustrated both successful and failed instances of the use of science in policy. His concluding remarks were that networks based on long-term, trusted relationships are essential to bridging the cultural and operational divide between the scientific and policy arenas. Lord Wilson also encouraged ongoing training throughout the career of those in the civil service to help grow a science-literate and acquisitive culture.

Academic Presentations

The day continued with presentations and Q&As from:

Professor Sutherland gave an overview of the state of conservation science and some key policy options around long-term restoration of damaged habitats. He also introduced some key concepts helpful to achieving this such as 'natural capital', 'biodiversity offsetting', as well as horizon scanning in the field of biodiversity and conservation.

  • Doctor Jennifer Cobbe, Department of Computer Science, University of Cambridge and Coordinator of the Trust and Technology Initiative, University of Cambridge

Dr Cobbe spoke conceptually about some critical viewpoints in Emerging Technologies. She spoke about how technology is neither inherently good, bad or neutral, but can be harnessed to have results that are all of these. She also talked about innovation and disruption as powerful mechanisms (again with potential for both benefit and harm) which can be encouraged or controlled through policy.

As a knowledge Exchange Fellow, Dr, Moller has a long-term position across both University of York and the Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). She works across these institutions to improve the use of science within policy and to identify opportunities to support research co-design and delivery. She spoke of her experience in this role and of the communications obstacles and opportunities she had identified. Within her presentation she advocated for a partnership approach with co-creation of scientific research questions and reciprocal policy solutions.

  • Professor Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise, Director of the Centre for India & Global Business (CIGB), University of Cambridge

    Professor Prabhu discussed the links between regulation and innovation, and the role of universities in Research & Development (R&D). He offered two case studies: M-pesa, the mobile money transfer service that was developed in Kenya, and the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles in the UK. Within each study he explored the R&D process behind these technologies, the political framework and regulation that was involved, the effect that these policies had on these emerging technologies and on their subsequent socioeconomic impacts.

    Policy Challenges

    The afternoon continued with a suite of policy challenges. Attendees were split into groups, with each group being given a specific policy issue to research - pulling on expertise within the group across a range of governmental departments from the SEFS, and from a range of academic expertise from ECRs. Attendees then presented their ideas back to a mock panel of Ministers, enthusiastically enacted by Professor Prabhu and Dame Sue Owen, who has just recently retired as Permanent Secretary of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The five policy challenges laid out were:

    • Should the UK impose stricter rules on gene-editing research involving sperm, eggs and embryos?
    • Can the government stimulate the economy while also incentivising decarbonisation after Brexit?
    • How could the government improve the uptake of vaccination in the UK?
    • How could the UK improve public safety online?
    • How could the UK regulate "gig economy" employers to avoid exploitation of flexible workers?

    Attendees presented a range of innovative solutions, practicing vital skills of succinctly summarising proposed actions and providing necessary rationale and background context, in an elevator pitch format.

    Overall, the day provided an interesting and interactive forum for early career researchers and civil servants to explore and expand the role of science in policy making.

    Photo by Rebecca Leaman 2007