Science policy? What are the real challenges here?

The March 22 post shared a “collaboratively-derived science policy research agenda” recently put forth by William Sutherland and 50+ co-authors. The list comprised 40 questions, organized by theme:

–          understanding the role of scientific evidence in policymaking

–          framing questions, sourcing evidence and advice, shaping research

–          advisory systems and networks

–          policymaking under conditions of uncertainty and disagreement

–          democratic governance of scientific advice

–          how do scientists and policymakers understand expert advisory processes?

A great list, and the individual questions within each of these areas merit further study – indeed, as the authors suggest – further research. What’s more, the process by which the list of science policy research questions was developed has much to commend it. But might there be other ways of formulating such a list? And how different could such lists look? How likely is this particular list to become the framework for research over the next few years?

As a spur to your own thought process, here’s a distinct list…basically, no more than a list of questions that I puzzle over in one form or another every day. On the surface it looks different…maybe even quite different. How dissimilar is it in reality, in any fundamental, substantive sense? I’m unsure. I’ve had difficulty comparing the two catalogs. Over the next few posts, I’m hoping we can examine this second list in a bit more detail. But for now, let me just enumerate this set, and let me call them  “grand challenges” for science policy research, to distinguish them from the first.

[A cautionary note: the list of grand challenges for science policy might be substantially altered within another science-culture-society context. So my list might look quite different had I been able to develop it from a Chinese or Indian perspective…or from a health science perspective, etc.]

1.       Given the rapid pace of societal change and the accelerating pace of scientific and technological advance today, how can science policy be made more adaptive?

2.       Given the fact that the U.S. Constitution (all older constitutions?) makes no provision for data-based policy (with the exception of the use of Census data to apportion seats in the House of Representatives), how might future policies be usefully based on data?

3.       Given the inherent conflict of interest between gathering data and the formulation of policy and regulations based on those data, how can these two powers be separated in the policy process?

4.       How can the policy process accommodate the notions of public-, private-, and mixed goods and services to develop new social contracts governing essential collaborations of the private- and public-sectors?

5.       Given that social science and policy research inherently have political implications, how can research in these areas be funded by national governments?

6.       Given that most policies are fragmented and sector-specific, how can more holistic, integrated policy frameworks be constructed?

7.       How can two competing policy aims – the freedom of research needed for innovation and the private incentives needed for innovation – be fostered and balanced?

8.       How can the value of competing policy options be assessed and compared, especially as that value consists of monetizable and non-monetizable components? What can valuations tell us about winners and losers for various policy options?

9.       How can national-level science policies be constructed that will foster a diversity of place-based policy approaches at local levels?

10.     How can science-based policies incorporate capabilities for learning from experience?

These may not be self-evident. We’ll start unpacking these questions in further posts. In the meantime, please construct your alternative sets of science policy research questions – and share with the rest of us. Maybe we can build on what Sutherland et al. have started.

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One Response to Science policy? What are the real challenges here?

  1. Pingback: Challenges in science and public policy redux. | Living on the Real World

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