‘What exactly is science policy?’ This is a question I encounter on a regular basis and in a variety of scenarios; during pub sessions with friends, amid awkward small-talk with hairdressers, in chance meetings with strangers on public transport and, repeatedly, during conversations with my Mother.
It seems that science policy is often viewed as a rather obscure part of the scientific landscape. However, a widespread understanding and engagement with it both within and beyond the science community is vital as it relies on a steady supply of scientific evidence and advice.
Science policy involves the combination of scientific expertise with knowledge and understanding of government and policy-making, decision making and scrutiny processes to ensure that legislation and policy have a sound evidence base. Those who work in science policy act between research scientists and policy-makers and aim to identify and shuttle important and relevant information between the two communities. To this end, an element of translation is involved; it is vital that the information is received using language and in a format that is understandable by the target audience.
Science policy work can take both reactive and proactive approaches. Reactive work often involves responding to consultations issued from the Government and other organisations and serves to ensure that vital scientific information and the opinions of the scientific community are heard. The evidence provided is then used to inform policy decisions. Proactive policy work involves highlighting key issues and striving to ensure that these are placed on and/or promoted up policy maker’s agendas.
At the Biochemical Society, the ethos behind our science policy work is most certainly collaboration. We work closely with the Society of Biology (as Policy Officer I’m seconded there four days a week) and also support a number of other organisations, including the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), Sense About Science, the Athena SWAN charter, the Science Media Centre and the British Science Association, to further our policy work and promote our policy aims.
Also crucial to our efforts is our Database of Expertise. As previously mentioned, science policy work relies on the input of those with expert knowledge and ‘on the job’ perspectives. This ensures that the information we present to policy-makers is as relevant and accurate as possible. To this end, the Biochemical Society utilises the Database of Expertise, a compendium of members who are willing to be approached when advice is required by our policy team. The information received is invaluable and informs the majority of our consultation responses as well as our media work.
The option to sign-up for the Society’s Database of Expertise is now available via the membership forms and the list of members involved and their areas of expertise is now held on our membership database. Therefore, if you are interested in being involved in our science policy work, you can sign up right now by logging into the Members’ Area of the website and reviewing your details under ‘Manage Membership’. You will be asked to confirm that you would like to be part of the database and to provide up to 3 areas of expertise. Alternatively, you can contact our Policy Officer, i.e. me, for further information.
The database is used for no other purpose than to seek policy advice and contact will always be by email. When an issue on which we require information or opinion arises you will be contacted with the latest developments, some background information and key questions where relevant.
The Database of Expertise is an invaluable resource to us and allows us to be truly representative of the opinions of our membership. We always endeavour to take the opinions and feedback offered by the Database of Expertise on board. Hence I would strongly urge you to become involved and sign up to this initiative.
I look forward to working with many more of our membership via our Database of Expertise in the future!
As for my Mother, I think she’s a bit of a lost cause…