Back in October 2008, the Council for Science and Technology published a thoughtful report on ‘How academia and government can work together’, which identified the main inhibitors to policy engagement and made several recommendations as to how both sides could raise their game. These debates have also been bubbling away in discussions around the new ‘impact’ component of the Research Excellence Framework, the new assessment model for UK university departments from 2014.  This component, if framed in the right way, will provide a greater incentive for individual researchers to engage in policy activities.

One university which has taken this challenge seriously is Cambridge, through the creation of its Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP), which on Tuesday held a jam-packed party to celebrate its first 18 months of work. Speakers included Sir John Beddington FRS and Sir Leszek Borysiewicz FRS, who recently marked 100 days as Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor.

CSaP is doing excellent work in bringing Cambridge academics into closer contact with policy makers, and by encouraging a flow in the opposite direction, through its Policy Fellowships, they enable civil servants and others to escape the Westminster bubble and spend time reflecting on their work in Cambridge.

As Dr David Cleevely FREng, the Founding Director of the Centre, describes it in CSaP’s first annual report: “We have made the deliberate choice not to [inform policy] through media headlines or doorstep-thick reports. Our mission is to create environments where policy makers and scientists can talk and listen to one another, frankly and at length, without every assertion being treated as a soundbite or a barbed aside.”

There are lots of potential synergies between CSaP’s work and that of the Science Policy Centre here at the Royal Society, and I hope we can develop some joint activities together over the coming months.

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