This year, the big question being asked at the Science in Public conference was “How do science and technology affect what it means to be human?”. During the 10-12th July, researchers from across the world debated the issue at the Edge conference venue in the Endcliffe Village. Under the spotlight were topics such as physical and cognitive enhancement; job loss through automation and the shift to knowledge economies. On the second day, Science in Policy were invited to present our workshop 'Science into Policy - a practical guide' to give the delegates a toolkit of strategies and relaunches for reaching policy makers.
Kimberly Mullins led us through our next activity, where we discussed the motivations for researchers to be involved in policy making, from the view of the scientist and the citizen. At this point we realised how many social scientists were in the audience when we sparked off a huge debate on where the distinction should be made between citizens and scientists. As one participant pointed out: "Being attached to an institution gives weight to our views and puts us in a privileged position. It's up to us to give a voice to those who aren't so easily heard". Another said "If I contact my MP in my role as a mother, for instance to change education policy, then my research won't come into it at all". In some cases, however, a researcher’s motivations may come both from wanting to advance a new technology and to leave a more sustainable world for their children.
But it’s not enough to have good intentions – it does take a bit of effort to disseminate your work more widely. "The 'Publish or Perish' culture of academia encourages us to finish our project, write it up in a paper, then move on" said Christopher Nelson in our next section. "But we should take a step back and understand what we have done, who it could interest and the potential implications". To quote Sir Mark Wolport (Government Chief Scientific Adviser): "Science isn't finished until it is communicated". But policy makers aren't likely to read journal articles, so how exactly can you reach them? Besides writing directly to MPs, potential approaches include contacting journalists; Government departments (such as DEFRA); NGOs and ThinkTanks.
Social media may carry a bad reputation at times, but it can still be an effective tool, particularly for reaching the general public. Chris pointed out that the large number of Twitter followers for 'celebrity' scientists such as Brian Cox, show that "despite what Michael Gove says, people do still like experts". Getting involved in public outreach events can also help bring your research to wider attention, whilst simultaneously developing your skills in communicating the relevance of your work.
Comments from our participants showed that they had learnt a lot and picked up some ideas for the future. As for us, we enjoyed the chance to present to a different audience which included researchers from all over the world. Who knows? Perhaps one day we'll take our 'science into Policy, a practical guide' on a national tour!
"I'm hoping to work with some NGOs in the future and will use some of the ideas from this session" Iuona Zielinska, Maria Grzegorzewska University, Poland.
"I learnt a lot and enjoyed the discussions" James Riley, Newman University, UK