Speakers from a trio of Thinktanks shared their thoughts on how engineers and scientists can influence policy development, at the PolicyNet Christmas session.

The session, which took place on 13 December, was chaired by Academy Vice President of External Affairs, Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng and attended by members of engineering institutions, scientific societies, GO-Science and the parliamentary committees.

Professor Birgitte Anderson, Director of the Big Innovation Centre, began the session by identifying weak links between the key players in policymaking. She talked about her work that aims to connect companies, universities, engineers and scientists and to share data between them. By creating an ‘open innovation hub,’ engineers and scientists will have better access to the policymaking process, she said. The Big Innovation Centre aims to be a test bed for open innovation by recognising unexploited synergies and promote evidenced-based policies. Professor Andersen said: “There is a need for open innovation and to develop an innovation ecosystem to encourage evidence-based policy making in government.”

Tony Lodge, Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, put forward his view that engineers and scientists must learn from previous policy mistakes. Using High Speed rail-line 1 (HS1) as an example, he questioned whether government has listened to engineers during the enquiries for HS2 and suggested that a lack of communication has led to a poor progression of the design of the rail-line. He said that influencing the media, as well as government, is important in policymaking.

“Engineers and scientists can win the UK jobs, save the UK money and allow the UK to become a centre of excellence, but we need to be prepared to put our necks on the line to interact with the policymaker when things are wrong,” he said.

Jill Rutter, Programme Director at the Institute for Government (IfG), gave an insight into policy development. IfG research has revealed that ministers and civil servants felt that policy making could be certainly be improved.

While there may be no technical barriers for engineers or scientists to be inside government, the audience agreed with Ms Rutter when she said that perhaps barriers arose from government culture. She explained how some government departments, such as Defra and DECC attract more engineering and science expertise than others and said that policymaking needs to be mixture of evidence, politics and values - science is one contributor to that but will not determine policy on its own.

The audience discussion focused on the need for long term strategy and how policymakers could prevent cross party disagreement getting in the way of much needed long term solutions, as is arguably the case with the current energy policy.

A number of solutions were proposed such as moving towards technocracy and completely separating policymaking from the ‘politics’. Other proposals included drawing upon non-party political universities and catapult centres more and attempting to replicate the process of the Olympics that achieved cross party agreement.

The session concluded that engineers and scientists are already thinking ahead to 2020 and beyond and long-term outlooks must be reflected in policy.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Sarah Griffiths at The Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. 020 7766 0655