16 July 2018

Professor Peter Halligan, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, describes his recent attendance at the 4th European Science Advisers Forum in Estonia.

Although Brexit and the creation of UKRI has generated a shift in focus from the EU to the UK, the Welsh Government strongly values its continuing relationship with Europe. In the current Horizon 2020 programme, Wales has already generated over 2000 collaborations.

Established in June 2014 by Professor Anne Glover (then Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso), ESAF is an independent network of European science based advisors designed to grow and facilitate the exchange of information, expertise, practices regarding governmental science advice. Their focus is very much on science for policy in the belief that an accurate, unbiased syn­thesis of relevant science evidence is one of the most valuable contributions a research community can offer democratic decision-makers.

ESAF comprises part of a growing international landscape of science advice that includes:  

  • The International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) started by Peter Gluckman in 2014 when he was CSA to the Government of New Zealand. INGSA acts under the auspices of the International Council for Science and operates as a platform for policy exchange, capacity building and research across a range of diverse global science advisory organisations and national systems.
     
  • In 2016, the Foreign Ministries S&T Advisors Network (FMSTAN) was established by the U.S. Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State at the National Academy of Sciences but has as its main focus science diplomacy.

ESAF and the European Commission's Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) are however independent organisations: SAM is charged with providing science advice to the EU Commission whereas the purpose of ESAF is to facilitate the exchange and access to knowledge with a view to sharing best practice and informing science-based advice.

Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner responsible for research, science and innovation, regards ESAF as an important link to national science advice mechanisms and the SAM Group of Chief Scientific Advisors are also strongly supportive of the objectives of ESAF. Indeed the EU Commission wrote to all member states to inform them about the progress and encourage membership from those not currently participating.

Although membership of ESAF is based on country representation, ESAF also invites guests and colleagues to participate from EU regions and non-EU European countries. ESAF meets once a year with host countries rotating.

In June, I had the opportunity to attend the 4th European Science Advisors Forum (ESAF-4) at the Estonian Academy of Science in the lovely city of Tallinn in Estonia. The Co-ordinating country for 2018-2020 is the Netherlands and the secretariat is ably serviced  by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy

The meeting was a great opportunity to meet colleagues and hear presentations from Siim  Kallas, former Prime Minister of Estonia and European Commissioner for Transport;  Prof Janusz Bujnicki, Chair of the European Commission's Group of Chief Scientific Advisors; Keith Sequeira, senior member of the Cabinet of Carlos Moedas, and Johannes Klumpers, Head of Scientific Advice Mechanism Unit, Director-General of Research and Innovation, European Commission.

Keith Sequeira noted there is no standard model for science advice within the EU and that existing models were not mutually exclusive and that Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) is now a well-functioning element of SAM. He also mentioned that the High Level Group had been formally renamed as 'The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors' to the European Commission (GCSA) underlining the maturity of the mechanism as well as the high level of interaction between GCSA and the European Commission.

The meeting covered a wide range of topics including how decision making can go wrong without science advice, how evidence can be best synthesized for policy, and what happens when a county no longer values science advice.   

It was also recognised that it was important to work closely with policy makers to better understand their positions and needs and there was a feeling that more attention needed to be paid to this 'receiving end' of science advice – policymakers and politicians. At a future meeting, ESAF plans to dedicate a section to this by inviting one or more politicians. The benefits to government of growing their national science advice capacity was also discussed including the role that indigenous national science bases can play in science diplomacy, including fostering positive international relations, helping promote national interests, address cross-border issues and contribute to tackling global challenges supporting international science.

A number of recent examples of scientific advice produced by the European Commission's Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, in collaboration with SAPEA were discussed. These included new SAM-initiatives such as 'transforming the future of aging', 'microplastics', and 'sustainable food systems'.

Johannes Klumpers described the next SAM project 'Making sense of science under conditions of complexity and uncertainty'. He explained that this topic was different from other topics being directed at those that receive advice. The project will also address various systems and models of science advice, such as the CSA-system as well as dedicated advisors for specific topics such as food safety, nuclear safety, acting in crises, and regulatory contexts.

Looking forward to ESAF-5 in Dublin in June 2019.

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