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Entering the world of policymaking – the importance of evidence

28 Apr 2017

Anusha Panjwani looks back at her nine month CaSE policy fellowship, during which she produced CaSE’s new Evidence report.

As my fascination with pipetting started to wane, my thoughts and opinion on the societal and political dimensions of my research started to increase. I was keenly aware that I held interests outside of the traditional research career, which saw me accept a fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of science and Technology where I authored the POSTnote on ‘Genetically Modified Insects and Disease Control’.

This was a turning point for me – I wanted to pursue a career in science policy. Towards the end of my post-doctorate I applied for the role of ‘research and public policy fellow’ at CaSE to work on Improving the use of evidence in UK government policymaking. My research involved reviewing publicly available literature, roundtable discussions and in-depth interviews with individuals from across the science policy landscape. These included chief scientific advisers, government officials, representatives from academia, industry, learned and professional bodies.

At CaSE I was reminded that the worlds of academia and policy are poles apart! Besides the fact that they operate on disparate timescales, the two worlds differed in their cultural, work and communications settings. Policy was a new field for me and I learned a lot and relished the challenges. I was lucky to be part of the team at CaSE where I was encouraged to learn actively and through osmosis!

Through interviews for my report and CaSE related events and meetings, I met a number of people from different professional backgrounds and diverse political inclinations. I understood how evidence is accessed and used in policymaking, and more importantly, how the current approach can be improved. Sustained dialogue with these individuals enabled me to develop deliverable recommendations on scientific advice likely to be taken up by government. Throughout my research there was unanimous agreement that although the UK science advice structures are viewed favourably by the international community, appetite exists for improvements to strengthen the policymaking process.

Over the last few years there have been some positive steps towards strengthening the policymaking process. Despite this momentum, we are yet to see scientific advice and evidence, in line with political timeframes, visibly grounding policies in the UK government. This remains an aspiration rather than reality. The current times of budget constraints and significant domestic and international policy change increases the importance of ensuring the processes and structures for accessing and using evidence to inform decisions are fit for purpose, performing well and as joined-up as possible across government.

I hope the findings of the report entitled ‘Improving the use of evidence in UK  government policymaking’ (CaSE Evidence report) will be taken up with a positive attitude leading to desirable change in the policymaking process. CaSE will certainly continue to engage with 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.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at CaSE and met some fantastic people. I will be pursuing a research communication and policy career at the Food Standards Agency and I am sure our paths will cross again!