27 April 2017
Anusha Panjwani summarises the highlights and themes from the launch of CaSE's new Evidence report set in the context of a new GCSA, an election and Brexit.
Evidence-based policy making is not a new idea. What is new and positive is the increasing attention placed on the use of evidence in policymaking in the UK over the last two decades. This was the impetus behind CaSE's new report, 'Improving the use of evidence in UK government policymaking', which provides a fresh opportunity to explore current structures, processes and practice.
The report was launched on Monday 24th April 2017 at New Prospect House, near London’s Southbank. and included a panel discussion followed by a networking event. The launch event was the culmination of nine months of research by myself into understanding how scientific advice is supplied and used in UK government policymaking.
The panellists included the Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Stephen Metcalfe MP, the Co-Director of Policy@Manchester with the University of Manchester, Professor Andy Westwood, and the Director of Research & Development with Public Health England, Professor Bernie Hannigan. The event was chaired by CaSE Executive Director Dr Sarah Main.
The panellists were joined by an invited audience of 60 people from across the policy and political communities to discuss the report's findings.You can view a storify of the whole event at #caseforevidence.
The Deputy General of Prospect, Sue Ferns, opened the event by welcoming everyone to New Prospect House, before handing over to University College London's Sarah Chaytor, who co-produced the report with CaSE. As the report's author I then gave a short presentation on the research behind the report, before the panellists and chair took to the stage.
The themes discussed included approaches to strengthen science advice structures, better join-up and leadership across government; different factors driving an optimal balance of evidence supply and demand in policymaking; methods to improve evaluation and accountability, and increased transparency through robust scrutiny.
The panellists picked a range of recommendations to speak on but all agreed that a robust system of evidence evaluation is needed across government. Some of the recommendations that the panellists spoke on included:
- When policies are announced, the underpinning body of evidence should also be published.
- Robust plans for evaluation should be a requirement for business case approval and published alongside policy or programme announcements.
- UKRI should expand and encourage exchange programmes and secondments into department.
- The GCSA and GO-Science should be located centrally in the Cabinet Secretariat, alongside other cross-cutting government functions.
The panel discussion and following Q&A with the audience highlighted the timeliness of the report and the growing appetite to see improvements in the use of evidence in policymaking across the UK government. There was strong support for the increase in secondments and exchange programmes to enable a more balanced 'push' and 'pull' for evidence and advice in the iterative policymaking process. Professor Hannigan suggested that scientists should stand for parliament if we are to see more effective use of scientific advice in policymaking across the UK government. It was received by some brave members of the audience! There was widespread recognition of the continued benefits of the UK science advice structures such as the Chief Scientifc Advisor network but there were concerns over the extent to which this network is comprehensive and robust.
Science is key to tackling today’s societal challenges. As the UK shapes a new relationship with the world, we need to ensure that UK policies are informed by robust science advice, evidence and expertise. Evidence-based policies better position us to deal with considerable change, more of which is yet to come. Stephen Metcalfe MP underlined that CaSE plays an important role in bringing science and parliament together. CaSE will certainly continue to engage with the individuals across the science and policy communities to see the changes suggested in the recommendations, put into practice with the aim of strengthening the policymaking process.
Many thanks to the panellists, audience and New Prospect House for contributing to such an engaging and timely report launch.
Update: Anusha Panjwani has also written a guest article looking back over her 9 month policy fellowship with CaSE.