5 DEVELOPING BETTER USE OF SCIENCE AND SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE BY GOVERNMENT
The Science Strategy recognised the growing need to ensure that high quality scientific advice was available to inform policy development. Concerns about the health aspects of new technologies, such as mobile phones and genetically modified food, and the scientific basis of global warming are amongst the issues that Governments face. Government needs to be as transparent as possible about the scientific evidence it uses in policy development. The Strategy committed the Executive to:
- Ensure the effective use of scientific evidence in policy formulation and resource allocation by Government
In order to achieve this, the Strategy set out a range of measures to strengthen leadership on science issues and to develop the use of science. These included establishing the Scottish Science Advisory Committee as an independent committee under the auspices of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The Strategy envisaged the Committee as a body which could review the Executive's activity on meeting its objectives.
The UK Context since 2001
The UK Government has continued to strengthen arrangements for the use of science in policy making. In accordance with the Chief Scientific Adviser's guidelines, most Departments now have their own Chief Scientific Adviser and a Science Strategy. The Office of Science and Technology has established a rolling programme of reviews of the science policies in each Whitehall Department against the Chief Scientific Adviser's guidelines. The Government has established a Co-ordination of Research and Analysis Group to set strategy across Government for the provision of analytical services, such as economic and social research, commonly used in evidence-based policy making. The Government re-established the Council for Science and Technology in 2004 as a group of independent scientists co-chaired by the Chief Scientific Adviser and a member of the Council for Science and Technology to advise on a range of science issues. The Council is the UK's premiere advisory body on science and reports to the Prime Minister and the First Minister in Scotland. It has produced a range of reports.
Progress in Scotland since 2001
The Executive has established the Scottish Science Advisory Committee, under the auspices of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (further details below). It has also strengthened its own internal co-ordination of activity with the formation of the Science Cross-cutting Group. This Group comprises senior officials from the main Executive Departments with an interest in science issues and research.
More recently, the Executive's Environment and Rural Affairs Department has created a new Chief Scientific Adviser post, and has made an appointment. The Executive is also creating a new post of Lead Chief Scientific Adviser for the Executive, to take overall charge of the Executive's Science Strategy and to act as head of Profession. The Executive hopes to make an appointment in 2006. These new appointments will join a number of existing senior scientists including the Chief Scientist in Health Department, the Chief Medical and Chief Veterinary Officers, and the Chief Ecological Adviser, whose expertise is already able to be accessed by policy makers across Departments. Departments also take advice from scientists employed in a number of Agencies and sponsored bodies. The case studies at the end of Objective 5 show how the Scottish Executive is obtaining scientific advice to improve health, housing, transport, and criminal, environmental and social justice across Scotland ( Case studies 29-37).
Trends in Performance Indicators
No indicators have been developed for this Objective as the commitments do not lend themselves to this type of monitoring.
Scottish Science Advisory Committee
The Executive and the Royal Society of Edinburgh established the Scottish Science Advisory Committee in June 2002 as a committee of 18 leading scientists and end users under the chairmanship of Professor Wilson Sibbett. In its first two years, the Committee reported to the Executive on excellence in the science base; science education; knowledge transfer; investing in scientific talent; and science in society. The Committee was refreshed in 2004 with some new members to better reflect the remit of the committee. It is currently considering science priorities for the Executive in the run up to the next spending review.
The Executive has continued to make use of excellent scientific advice available through its science agencies, the NHS, and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department Main Research Providers, and to commission new research where that is needed. It has restructured its analytical services (other than science) as a single management unit at the centre of the Executive and embedded analysts in each department, helping to improve the use of objective evidence in policy making. It has, where possible, sought to influence the UK science and research agenda by representation on key UK forums and bodies. It has increasingly focused funding on scientific priority areas needed for policy making, and has funded several collaborative initiatives with the higher education research sector in order to improve policy-making. It has participated in Government responses to the issues raised by the Phillips report The BSE Inquiry, and has linked in to developments in Whitehall through membership of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Committee. The Executive's Science Cross-Cutting Group has liaised with the Scottish Science Advisory Committee and with Whitehall, and has considered how best to strengthen the use of science in the Executive.
The two new Chief Scientific Advisers in the Executive will replace activity and responsibilities delivered by non-scientist administrators, as part of a commitment to greater professionalisation in the Executive. This will help to join up management of science across the Executive, and also improve links with science in Whitehall. The role of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee will need to be reviewed in the context of these developments. The current chair has agreed to continue with the present round of work until the end of 2006. Beyond this, the Executive intends that the new Lead Chief Scientific Adviser in the Executive will take on the role of championing and promoting science across Scotland, a role that has been so far carried out by the chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Committee, as well as advising Ministers on science issues.
More progress needed
Scotland has in recent years not had to face an urgent situation on its own where good policy making depended crucially on the scientific information available. This is perhaps, to some extent, a matter of luck. There are some concerns that the Executive has started to fall behind the progress in Whitehall on managing science, developing mechanisms to deal with such situations, and linking into the very substantial funding made available for UK science. The appointment of a new overall Chief Scientific Adviser for the Executive, as part of a team of three Chief Scientific Advisers, is a necessary first step to improve the relationship with Whitehall, to better interact with, and influence, UK policy making on science and to better co-ordinate and lead on science policy within the Executive. This will be essential as part of the next phase of the Science Strategy.
Horizon-scanning in Scotland on science and technological opportunities is currently rather disjointed. A key consideration is whether new structures are needed to improve coordination especially in cross-cutting areas and to link in with developments at a UK and international level.
Over the longer term we will:
- Continue to strengthen Scottish Executive structures to manage science and innovation policy, including cross-cutting issues and links to Whitehall and the EU
- Improve communication between scientists and policymakers
As part of these commitments, over the short to medium term we will:
- Appoint a new Lead Chief Scientific Adviser for the Executive in 2006
- Review arrangements for the Scottish Science Advisory Committee for 2007 onwards
- Consider how best to develop and interconnect Scotland's horizon scanning activity