The relationship between science and policy is critically important both for the sciences broadly conceived and for policy formulation and good governance, but there are major unresolved issues about how the relationship actually functions. The CSaP Science and Policy Studies Group aimed to help set a new research agenda by running a programme to identify key research questions, for example about precisely how science influences policy (and vice versa), and how expertise is best engaged.

We sought to include questions about the science-policy relationship as observed and conceptualised, as well as more normative questions about ‘how it ought to be’. The only condition was that questions should be capable, at least in principle, of being addressed through research. The final list of questions helped establish a major research agenda in this increasingly important field.

The process

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 2011.

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’. This workshop then led to the publication of a paper published in PLoS One.

The paper


Sutherland WJ , Bellingan L , Bellingham JR , Blackstock JJ , Bloomfield RM , et al. (2012) A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda. PLoS ONE 7(3): e31824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031824

Full author list:

Sutherland, W.J., Bellingan, L., Bellingham, J.R., Blackstock, J.J., Bloomfield, R.M., Bravo, M., Cadman, V.M., Cleevely, D.D., Clements, A., Cohen, A.S., Cope, D.R., Daemmrich, A.A., Devecchi, C., Anadon, L.D., Denegri, S., Doubleday, R., Dusic, N.R., Evans, R.J., Feng, W.Y., Godfray, H.C.J., Harris, P., Hartley, S.E., Hester, A.J., Holmes, J., Hughes, A., Hulme, M., Irwin, C., Jennings, R.C., Kass, G.S., Littlejohns, P., Marteau, T.M., McKee, G., Millstone, E.P., Nuttall, W.J., Owens, S., Parker, M.M., Pearson, S., Petts, J., Ploszek, R., Pullin, A.S., Reid, G., Richards, K.S., Robinson, J.G., Shaxson, L., Sierra, L., Smith, B.G., Spiegelhalter, D.J., Stilgoe, J., Stirling, A., Tyler, C.P., Winickoff, D.E. and Zimmern, R.L. (2012) A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda. PLoS ONE 7(3): e31824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031824

Organising Committee