The state is all ears

July 5, 2012

Woody Caan's letter "Peer (and MP) review" (21 June) talks about the need for scientists to come forward who are willing to travel to Westminster and give Parliament the benefit of their expertise. As he puts it: "Yes, we need more legislators who appreciate scientific evidence, but we also need more scientists who understand how our laws are shaped."

In the experience of the Campaign for Social Science, supported by the Academy of Social Sciences and dozens of higher education institutions, learned societies and individuals, the government in all its guises is getting better at calling on the expertise of researchers (increasingly so over the past year); academic social scientists in turn are responding well to the growing need for their views and findings. But there is more to be done to facilitate this process, understand agendas and timescales, and share dialogue.

The Campaign for Social Science and other agencies can play the role of trusted intermediaries in this process. We are asked regularly either to recommend or facilitate the process of bringing social scientists on to departmental panels and committees, showcasing their work and engaging directly in key debates.

The need for social science is spread right across the state and is not located solely in one place. Those outside the government are often unclear about structures, points of access and how to read public agendas and engage with them in a succinct and timely manner. The situation is made more difficult by the government not having a chief social scientific adviser with access to appropriate support.

Researchers can be active in responding to consultations and inquiries. To facilitate such engagement, the Campaign for Social Science produces a monthly bulletin of all public consultations, including those within the devolved administrations, likely to be of interest to social scientists.

But this is not a one-way street: researchers can also be proactive in outlining the possible policy implications of their work.

The government is interested in horizon-scanning for big societal issues likely to arise in the future, reviewing the effectiveness of current policies (especially where savings are achievable) and multidisciplinary collaboration to leverage technical innovation and development. If researchers can contribute, our experience is that Westminster is ready to listen. But timing and relevance are key.

Dialogue and engagement is taking place. The Campaign for Social Science exists, inter alia, to encourage and facilitate that process.

Stephen Anderson, Executive director, Campaign for Social Science

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