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This article first appeard in the october issue of RSC News. Words by Ruth Neale
Global change is creating enormous challenges relating to human health, energy and scarce natural resources
As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, science will become increasingly important. Science and engineering can provide solutions to many global challenges, but to make sure that the correct research areas are prioritised, and the most rigorous evidence is used by policymakers, it’s essential that scientists engage with the decision-making process.
There are few areas of modern life where scientific endeavours haven’t played a role and the benefits of fundamental research to society and the economy is being increasingly recognised by politicians.
One of the vital aspects of science policy for politicians is to consider the bigger picture. Politicians are elected to deal with the big issues and that’s what they spend most of their time working on. So relating science research to the bigger picture and then telling a story with real examples to get the message across is critical.
Science policy is a broad term, encompassing not only areas in which science can help achieve policy goals, but also areas in which policy itself influences science: funding for instance. Scientific evidence should play an extremely important role in policymaking, whether it be the efficacy of a particular type of drug or the economic benefit of funding scientific research. It’s paramount that researchers are actively engaged in the policymaking process, providing evidence and data, appraising policy
options and advising on risk assessment. In the UK, the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) is the home of science and engineering across government and exists to support the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), Sir John Beddington.
The key role of the GCSA and GO-Science is to ensure that all levels of government, including the prime minister and cabinet, receive the best scientific advice possible, and to enable the many departments across government to create policies that are supported by strong evidence.
The RSC feeds scientific data, evidence and advice into the policymaking process by acting as an honest broker between policymakers and the chemical science community. We consult our members and the wider scientific community to develop our own policy that we can communicate to policymakers at a number of levels.
An example of this is the RSC’s recent work in healthcare innovation led by David Fox, Science Associate at the RSC: “This has been a science policy success in terms of aligning a group of learned societies behind a common vision that is gaining significant traction amongst policymakers. A key factor has been the evidence and data we have been able to draw upon from our members and the wider research community.”
Many of our policy reports and papers are designed to encourage policymakers to enact a change to the law, but that’s not the only measure of success: raising awareness of particular issues where chemistry can help, or building new relationships with key influencers at policy events is fundamental to the work we do to support the chemical sciences.
The policymaking process
The formation of government policy is an ongoing process and it should exist as an iterative cycle. In this cycle, evidence helps with identifying new problems; possible solutions are considered and then a chosen course of action is implemented. The outcome of the policy implemented is monitored to provide new evidence to feed into the cycle.
RSC policy work
In 2009, the RSC launched Chemistry for Tomorrow’s World: A roadmap for the chemical sciences which outlines important global challenges. Relating research to real world applications through policy is key. The roadmap is helping us to demonstrate to policymakers how important chemistry is to improving people’s lives and generating economic wealth. For example, our recent report Solar Fuels and Artificial Photosynthesis, highlighted the potential of making fuels from sunlight to transform our energy options and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
We also engage and influence policy by providing responses to government consultations and producing position statements on key issues. Our response to the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee’s call for evidence on nuclear research and development capabilities last year is one example.
‘Resource efficiency’ is the theme for this month’s RSC News and it’s a policy area where we’ve worked closely with members and other stakeholders to feed data and evidence into the policymaking process. Our timeline below highlights some of the ways in which the scientific community has successfully engaged with government.
Do you have a passion for science communication? We want our members to get involved with the science policymaking process so we’ve launched a Science Policy Writing course for political engagement. The course covers science policy in much more detail and offers many helpful links to learn more about the policymaking process. It also introduces the ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing, which starts with your conclusion, followed by all the supporting information – a reverse approach to how PhD students write their thesis.
Find out more here and join our MyRSC Science and Policy group for more information.
Follow us on Twitter @RSC_Roadmap for information about new events and policy