Dr Andrew James
University College London
Making the best possible use of science and technology is vital to public policy, regulation and implementation. It requires a clear understanding of the actors involved, their needs, motivations and capabilities, and of the structures, cultures and practices that can lead to better use of knowledge, expertise and advice from within or outside government.
Government funded science and technology (S&T) which directly supports the goals or missions of the State accounts for a significant proportion of public spending on S&T. Different mission areas (e.g. in defence, health or agricultural policy) have their own distinctive system of actors and organizations. These ‘mission-oriented’ S&T systems have tended to be overlooked by academic analysts (except for the largest and most high-profile agencies and missions), yet mission-oriented S&T systems are not only vital to good public policy but are also important elements of broader research and innovation systems. They face profound challenges stemming from changes in public policy (including the emergence of major new global challenges), from shifts in the way scientific knowledge is produced and the global distribution of scientific expertise, and also from the financial and political pressures on the organization of government activities.
Here, Dr James and his team examined how S&T was sought and used in four policy areas across two very different ministries. This involved approaches to managing within and across ministries (including the use of high-level advisory councils) as well as the growing pressures on both policy makers and academics towards greater and more sustained engagement. By developing an analytical model of factors they were able to explore why and how academic engagement in the science and technology policy process occurred, in which the motivational and capability factors of academics and academic organisations as well as demand factors from policymakers and government bodies were addressed. Also explored were the policy and practice pressures that may cause a dynamically changing balance of motivation, capability and demand factors over time.
They found that the emphasis on fiscal austerity created short-term pressures that were sometimes in conflict with the need to focus on longer-term problems and ensure that the right balance of knowledge and expertise was maintained to meet future, as yet unknown, challenges. Also, a number of factors were shaping and conditioning these mission-oriented S&T systems including governmental structures, the nature of policy and policy problem and the different possible functions of knowledge, advice and expertise. The interconnectedness of actors in the delivery of S&T to policy makers, the importance of the relationships between actors and the influence of the institutional settings for those relationships were all issues highlighted in this research.
Several presentations to their Project Advisory Board comprising officials from Ministry of Defence (MoD); Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL); Department of Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) and Government Office of Science (Go: Science) has led to further discussion, suggestions for dissemination of findings/engagement within central government and insights into the relevance of the research for policy makers. This also led to further briefings requested from officials from MoD, DSTL, BIS and GO: Science.
Key research findings have been discussed with Senior DSTL officials, as well as the Chairman of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC), Professor David Delpy, leading to further requests for information and advice from MOD officials. While invitation-only round table discussions with the Shadow Science and Universities Minister and MPs, organised by the Royal Society and the other national academies at the Labour Party Conference, also led to research findings being shared.
The consultancy RAND Europe requested a briefing on the research findings, which contributed to a report to the MoD Chief Scientific Advisor on Innovation Models: Enabling new defence solutions and enhanced benefits from science and technology.
Finally the evidence from this study was presented to an expert advisory panel preparing advice on the future of government mission-oriented S&T in Canada
For further information please contact Dr Andrew James, Principal Investigator, (Andrew.James@mbs.ac.uk).