Saturday, September 6, 2014

Science and Policymaking, Part I:

What Scientists Need to Know about Policymakers

I was just pointed to a rich mother lode today--a trio of articles on what the various actors in science and technology policy need to know about each other.  Since I am a scientist and engineer who has worked in the policy area for a long time, the articles struck a chord and I wanted to share them here.  I suspect my audience is mostly other scientists and engineers, so I'll start with an article on what scientists should know about policy-making

Note that these articles were published by a British publication, The Guardian, so a few of the particulars pertain to the British government system.  However, the points the author makes are largely valid for any democratic government.  A few details may need to be changed, but the overall points apply.  Also, I'm sure we can all quibble about the details, and some of the commenters to the original article have taken issue with the relative importance of different issues, the order, whether some duplicate or contradict others, etc.  You can read the comments and draw your own conclusions.  I personally found that most of the points resonated, and perhaps will provide food for thought to others as we all continue to struggle with the interface between science and policy.  I perhaps thought the 20 points enunciated in The Guardian article could have been boiled down to a smaller set of points, but that is a small quibble.

I will highlight here the 20 points the original article in The Guardian makes about what scientists need to know about policy-making.  For the detailed discussion of each of the points, as well as for the comments, please see the original article.  In subsequent blogs, I will highlight the other Guardian articles, which provide similar thoughts on the other participants in policy-making.

1. Making policy is really difficult

2. No policy will ever be perfect

3. Policy makers can be expert too

4. Policy makers are not a homogenous group

5. Policy makers are people too

6. Policy decisions are subject to extensive scrutiny

7. Starting policies from scratch is very rarely an option

8. There is more to policy than scientific evidence

9. Economics and law are top dogs in policy advice

10. Public opinion matters

11. Policy makers do understand uncertainty

12. Parliament and government are different

13. Policy and politics are not the same thing

14. The UK has a brilliant science advisory system

15. Policy and science operate on different timescales

16. There is no such thing as a policy cycle

17. The art of making policy is a developing science

18. 'Science policy' isn't a thing

19. Policy makers aren't interested in science per se

20. 'We need more research' is the wrong answer

I will be interested in how the experience of others supports or contradicts these points, either in the US or elsewhere, but overall, I think most of these points are useful to keep in mind for those of us who engage with policy-makers.























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