Ring-fence time for policy engagement, urge young scientists

A ‘dashboard’ of metrics for assessing science communication could help generate 100 million hours a year of evidence-charged ‘dialogue’

February 28, 2022
Ruth Morgan UCL
Source: Louise Perkins

If just one-tenth of the world’s publicly oriented scientists spent one-twentieth of their working time engaging with policymakers, the “global butterfly effect” would go a long way towards solving the world’s problems.

But such a groundswell is unlikely because scientists operate under reward structures that “cannot capture the traction the science has in the ongoing dialogue with policy”.

An open letter published on 28 February says that a conscious effort to devote time to public engagement could supply the “missing link” between science and policy, generating 100 million hours a year of “dynamic conversation”.

Academics and public sector scientists could become expert practitioners of a medium that “infuses science into the culture of policymaking”, from the one-page briefing or three-minute oral pitch to the “issue-encapsulating figure” or “‘pop-science’ book”.

But this will not happen when scientists’ performance is appraised using metrics “predominantly focused” on research outputs such as journal publications, citation indices, grant earnings and even patents and spinout companies.

“Scientists are not generally recognised or rewarded for developing skills and excellence in science policy engagement, or for devoting time to these activities,” says the letter by Ruth Morgan, professor of crime and forensic sciences at UCL and a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Scientists community.

The letter, published by Frontiers Policy Labs, has been co-signed by 52 past and present WEF young scientists from 21 countries. “Rather than wheeling out scientists in times of crisis, the world could benefit from stronger, more consistent interactions between scientists and policymakers,” said the network’s manager, Greta Keenan.

Professor Morgan said universities and other institutions needed to do more to support researchers in policy engagement. “Pioneering science is step one, but we also need to get that science into the hands of those working in policy who can use it to change the world for the better,” she said.

“There’s no quick fix. It takes time to build relationships over months and years.”

Her letter says that rather than trying to conjure a “one-size-fits-all” metric for assessing engagement, a “dashboard” approach is needed. “Conversation, communication and engagement skills are broad and diverse,” it says.

“Storytelling skills…develop over time and are highly dependent on both the individual scientist and the topic at hand. If we persist with rigid and narrow metrics for assessing scientific excellence, we risk disincentivising scientists from spending time developing these kinds of synthesis and communication skills.”


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Related universities