Social scientists pool ideas to come to aid of government

December 10, 1999

Social scientists could find it easier to get ideas direct to government through a network being set up by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The initiative, which will cost the ESRC Pounds 2.5 million over the next three years, stems from growing interest by governments in this country and abroad in "evidence-based policy".

It will comprise a national centre, responsible for coordination, advice, quality control and long-term planning and between four and six sub-centres or "nodes" providing expert knowledge in areas such as health and education.

The intention is to "form bridges into available expertise, results, data and information relating to specific major policy issues" rather than to support original research.

Details of the centres will be announced next month following peer reviews of the submissions received.

Four proposals to run the national centre have been submitted.

Also to be announced shortly will be the name of the national centre director. He or she will help to choose the node managers.

If all goes to plan the scheme should start running next April.

Steve Morgan, senior policy officer and clerk to council at the ESRC, said submissions to run the nodes had been asked to include information about other potential funding sources.

More nodes could be added, he said. For example, individual government departments may want to fund nodes that cover the particular expertise useful to them or to establish their own.

Former ESRC chief executive Ron Amann, who has recently been appointed director of the Cabinet Office centre for management of policy studies, would be expected to work with the centre.

But Mr Morgan said the centres would be careful to remain at a distance from government. "The ESRC values its independence and I am sure the government values independent thought," he said.

"I suspect some members of the academic community would be concerned if there was any perception it was governed by government agendas."

He said if successful it could serve as a model for similar initiatives around the world.

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