Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Linking with policy

There has never been a better time for scientists to engage in policy.  In times of snap elections, BREXIT and changing governments overseas, the need for scientific input and evidence has never been greater.   But what are the global and local opportunities for influencing policy and how can scientists get involved? In this blog, our Knowledge Exchange Manager, shares her account of recent policy engagements through conference and parliamentary events and highlights what these could lead to in the future.

During this year’s election, all major political parties in the UK set demanding strategic objectives in their manifestos for R&D and for science in particular.  Science and innovation were seen as central to a successful government.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this was a theme that was echoed through three separate events that I attended recently. 
 
Representing the Babraham Institute at Parliamentary Links Day (https://www.rsb.org.uk/policy/policy-events/parliamentary-links-day) was a personal highlight for me.  This is an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Biology on behalf of the scientific community to strengthen dialogue with Parliament, and to provide MPs with a more rounded understanding of the scientific issues we face. The theme of this year’s event was ‘UK Science and Global Opportunities’.  It was a popular event given the topic but also thanks to the panellists sharing their views and taking questions from the floor.  Sir John Kingman (UKRI), Rt Hon John Bercow MP and Jo Johnson MP praised the world-class science of the UK but encouraged us not to be complacent.  Jo Johnson recognized that “the UK is not as good at commercialising research as we could be”.  The challenges of BREXIT were acknowledged but the overwhelming message from the panel was that “the UK has to remain the go-to place for science and innovation”.  The call to action for the audience was clear; strong links are needed between government, parliament, academia and business in order for us to remain open and attractive to collaboration and we all have a part to play in that.  You can read the RSB news story or listen to it in full on SoundCloud.
 
Taking a more academic focused view of policy engagement, the Centre for Science and Policy conference looked at “How academia can contribute to the work of government”.  Sir Chris Wormald (Dept of Health) spoke about the balance of speed vs depth when it comes to the need for academic engagement in policy and also the formal vs informal approaches of engagement. Michael Wakelam and I attended a session on ‘Life Sciences, strategy and growth’ which provided key insights from AstraZeneca, Rand EUROPE and the Royal Society on priorities for government, public opinion on research as well as the role of industry in engaging with government.  This event, as with Parliamentary Links Day, connected us to key players in the policy space. 
 
Finally rounding off the engagements, the Science and Innovation 2017 conference, Tim Dafforn (Chief Entrepreneurial Advisor at BEIS) spoke of the importance of early stage innovation and entrepreneurialism in the UK.  He highlighted examples and places where innovation was embedded and stressed the need to help build the UK's entrepreneurial skills-base.  In another speech that day, Brain Bowsher (STFC) talked about strengthening the voice for the UK’s research and innovation, whilst Chris Watkins introduced the MRC Biomedical Catalyst and encouraged applicants from “all modalities providing strong science and convincing business plans were covered.” Slide presentations from the event can be found here.
 
As with all networking events, this is only the beginning.  Attending these events has already led to exciting and unexpected opportunities, including further meetings with Innovate UK and an interview with an American network PBS on the topic of BREXIT.   As a result of ensuing discussions, connections have also been made with the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, Royal Society and Evidence for Information Service, providing the Babraham Institute with further channels to influence policies and policy makers.
 
My take home with all these interactions is that policy is not just for the few, it’s definitely for the many, so please do get in touch if you’d like to get involved and find out more about the Babraham Institute’s policy work, email kec@babraham.ac.uk.

Photo credit: Royal Society of Biology, June 2017

Posted

12 July, 2017

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