The final day of Policy Week saw Sam Illingworth of Manchester Metropolitan University chair a lively discussion about the relationship between scientists and politicians, exploring how engagement could be optimised.
Speakers included: Lucy Powell MP, Amanda Bamford of the University of Manchester, Dr Richard Walker from the Royal Society of Chemistry and Dr Caroline Kenny from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).
The session covered questions about how scientists can make their voices heard and whether there is a civic duty for scientists to engage with politicians.
Lucy Powell began by speaking about the political process and how scientists can better engage with it. She advised scientists to be more actively involved in politics and to be more proactive about engagement, highlighting the role of pairing schemes between scientists and policymakers run by various research councils. Powell placed a particular emphasis on the lack of scientific think tanks in the region, describing how think tanks might play a key mediating role between academia and policymakers, bridging the perceived gap between the ‘two worlds’.
Next, Caroline Kenny described the various ways of feeding evidence to Parliament and mentioned that certain times of year such as summer recess are typically less busy for evidence submissions. She spoke about how policymakers are often more interested about where a specific paper fits within the wider body of evidence than with the specific evidence itself, and consequently scientists should aim to be better at synthesising research evidence and pointing out where their work fits into the larger picture.
Amanda Bamford was asked if scientists have a civic duty to engage in the policy process. She reflected on her time in academia and her past role as BBSRC coordinator and pointed out that engagement is increasingly becoming part of the accepted role of a scientist. Bamford also spoke about the barriers that scientists face engaging with politicians and the associated time constraints that engagement brings.
Robert Walker discussed the role of professional bodies and research councils in bridging the gap between scientists and politicians. He spoke about the plethora of resources available, secondment schemes and support processes for scientists looking to engage with policy. When asked about the increasingly important role of social media, Walker responded that it is a fantastic and exciting channel which can foster engagement between scientists and politicians through the use of blogs and other signposts to further, more detailed research.
Questions were gathered from the audience but also from remote audiences using Twitter, via a projected tagboard which visualised the real time discussion and debate taking place on social media using the hashtag #policyweek. The panel fielded questions about open access, the pressure on scientists to say something different or new, and whether there are instances when evidence based policies are not the best route forwards.