“Hearing and Being Heard”

A very interesting report was published during the summer holidays!  Sciencewise commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out research into the public’s views of emerging areas of policy involving science and technology. 30 issues were identified through a process of consultation with experts involved in policy making and science and technology at a workshop run by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy.

Participants of the workshops created a grid showing how important they thought each issue was, relative to others. On the vertical axis, they showed how high a priority they thought each issue should be for the UK government, and on the horizontal axis they showed how high a priority it should be for the public to have involvement in policy-making related to the issue.

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In the report each of the 30 issues was analysed but what I found most interesting was the concluding section which included the following:

The way the public responded to the issues we showed them highlights some of the challenges for engaging the public with emergent science and technology issues. Sciencewise and others should now consider how to address these issues.

    • How to deal with multi-stakeholder, multi-layered issues? We know the public are interested in learning about the more complex issues that do not sit with only one department or policy stream; government stakeholders should work beyond internal silos to engage the public in shared dialogue processes.
    • Issues in dialogue must be framed so they are relevant to the public but without oversimplifying. This project, like others, underlines the need for stimulus and framing materials which enhance specificity, urgency, relevance to individuals in the UK as well as educating participants about risk and uncertainty. It may be a challenge to deal with the issues which are high risk and far off – is there a role for more explicit horizon scanning and scenario planning exercises within public dialogue?
    • Dialogues about how to engage the public with risk and uncertainty. Can we find out more about how people want to engage with ‘wicked’ problems? Some issues contain a “lack of consensus on fundamental facts or judgements” – what would a public, educated about this phenomenon, say about the issues?
    • Dialogues about how values are formed. We need to find out more about underlying tensions in dialogue, for example the range of views on individual rights vs collective responsibilities. A dialogue on the underlying issue of personal freedoms versus responsibilities, as this relates to science, taking in a range of different scientific or technological advances as stimulus, might be fruitful. Can we find out how the public feel these values should bear on decision making in science?
    • Different engagement for different times in the policy cycle. Do we need engagement on how policy is to be implemented (‘Keeping the lights on’)? Or on the moral and ethical level about the principles which should drive policy – (‘Rising costs of healthcare’)? Dialogue should take place at the point where participants can see it their input will have a certain effect.
    • Tackling cynicism. In this dialogue participants emphasised that their involvement was conditional on it making a difference to policy; but they did not really believe such difference would happen. The differences dialogue can make are subtle, nuanced and long-term but policymakers need to communicate what the dialogue achieved. Also, participants were keen to know that their view would not be ‘outweighed’ in the decision process by voices of vested interests. Those running dialogues should explain how the views of the public are balanced with the views of other stakeholders in decision making.

#CSaP13 Annual Conference: snapshot summary video

I attended the #CSaP13 Annual Conference that took place on the 18th of April 2013. You can see me at 1:02.

The Centre for Science and Policy’s 2013 annual conference, held on 18 April at the Royal Society in London, brought together some of the country’s most eminent professionals working at the intersection of science and policy.

For more videos: http://www.csap.cam.ac.uk/programmes/2013-annual-conference/

HorizonTap or why the EC is not tapping into the knowledge of those it has indirectly hired

Last week a new colleague started working with us as project manager for a EU-funded research project and I took the opportunity to ask her how had she found this job. “Too complicated” she said. She is not alone: an extremely common problem for project managers working on EU-funded projects is that they don’t know what will happen to them when the project ends.

Most usually their contract ends. If one is lucky the scientist for whom one worked for will have succeeded in getting more funding from the EU in the form of a new project, in which case one most probably can continue working with the same community. Even if one has such luck, it is not necessarily possible for this person to continue working there: public organisations in the EU usually put restrictions on how many years someone can work for them on temporary contracts. In the French public sector it is 6 years for example. If you have reached this 6 year limit they either open a permanent position for you (in which case you become a civil servant) or you are out, no matter how good or bad you are at your job. And since it is very difficult to justify new positions, especially in the time of crisis, then most usually you have to go.

So the question is how do you find a new job if you love being an EU-funded project manager?

jobsearch

I searched extensively online and I found no appropriate solution. I still cannot believe that those hiring personnel to work on EU-funded projects are not obliged by the EC to advertise the position in a central place so that all Europeans can apply! I have been working for example for an ERANET project: there is nowhere I can find if there are any other ERANETs looking for a project manager! I have to look at hundreds of websites in order to find this information and in this search some inside knowledge is necessary to succeed in obtaining it.

In the context of a course on “Innovation in the Public Sector” for my MSc in Public Policy and Management I decided to focus on this very important issue. I came up with the idea of HorizonTap, whose full business model you can read/download below. I would like however to summarize some of the main points here:

Continue reading

Making the most of scientists and engineers in government and Beddington’s legacy

In the UK, the Government Office for Science conducted a review to provide information about the current state of the the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) community, propose a vision for the future of the profession and highlight priorities for action. You can find the report here:

The future of the Civil Service: Making the most of scientists and engineers in government

You can find more information on this report here.

You should also read today’s article in the guardian by the outgoing UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington. There is also an interview of Sir Beddington at the Civil Service World website.

And if you want to read an opinion on his legacy, Research Fortnight has written an article on him.

UPDATE: new article by  on the issue of a Chief Social Scientist (15/03/2013) – with interesting video from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee session.

UPDATE2: Prof Sir John Beddington warns of floods, droughts and storms here (25/03/2013).

UPDATE3: In praise of … John Beddington at the Guardian (26/03/2013). 

Overview of the presence and influence of interest groups in decision-making in the EU

[this was my essay for the European Integration course]

1. Introduction

From the very beginning of the European Union (EU), interest groups have been an important element in its evolution, an element inextricably interwoven with the functioning of European institutions. The term interest group (IG) is used to describe organisations or bodies that represent trade unions, firms, farmers, local and regional authorities, consumer groups, environmental and animal protection interests etc (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
IG influence greatly contributes to the EU’s democratic legitimacy and to the formation a common reference framework for the various European public spheres. A coexistence of a variety of public spheres can be observed, which are evolving through complex interactions between the many different material and virtual factors that shape European policies (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
As a result, the presence of economic and social IGs has been ever increasing since the mid-1980s, indicating that their political mobilisation has been indeed considerable. This increase has been partly due to the complexity of the EU’s multilevel governance and the central position of highly fragmented European institutions. As a result, a great range of access points has been available to these groups to exert their influence on the decision-making process.
In addition, due to the constant criticism of the democratic deficit (lack of accountability, transparency of decisions and participatory opportunities, Michalowitz (2007)), the European Commission (EC) has demonstrated increasing openness towards IGs (e.g. White Paper on Governance or the Transparency Initiative, Kohler-Koch and Finke (2007)). In fact, nowadays, any explanation of policy outcomes without mentioning the contribution of IGs would be incomplete, especially since the influence of policy outcomes is their main goal.

Academic Dishonesty: Students’ Corruption

[this is not very related to science but it is an issue I feel very strongly about. This was my essay for the Ethics and Corruption in the public sector course I took during my Masters in Public Policy.]
1. Description
One of the behaviours that negatively affect an educational system is the very high levels of students’ academic dishonesty. This is especially the case for written examinations, the main assessment procedure in both high-school and university level education in Greece.
Academic dishonesty is a very dangerous type of corruption because it happens when people are at such a young age, at the stage when they learn how to think, try to find out what they believe in and develop into the people that they will eventually become. If a behaviour is perceived as correct or normal at this stage, it is more likely that it will be repeated for the rest of the life of the individual, or even be transferred in situations outside education. By adopting such a corrupt behaviour at such an early stage, young people are more likely to be corrupt as adults as well.
Academic dishonesty in the context of written examinations exists in many forms. Students can increase their chances of getting good grades by finding out the questions before the exam, copying from other students during the exam, copying from material brought into the exam room (notes in the bag, on the floor, in pencil cases, etc), from texts written on their hands, arms, thighs etc, and/or using technology (e.g. using mobile phones to obtain answers from the internet or from friends at home) or even by sending someone else to sit the exam for them. All these forms of cheating are used to great extents depending on the situation.
The focus of this essay will be university students who are performing any of the above behaviours during their higher education studies. They are the ones who initiate and benefit from the corrupted act of cheating in written examinations.  The alarming trend that served as inspiration for this essay is the increasing number of university students that consider cheating as an integral and justified part of their studies, even a right. The majority of students nowadays consider it completely independent of corruption.

Pollution and Environmental Policy: nitrate pollution from agricultural sources in the case of Greece

[short note: as I’ve mentioned before I have started a new masters course in Public Policy and Management. I will be publishing my essays on this blog, and this is one of these essays.]

INTRODUCTION

In an economy that has achieved Pareto optimality (social efficiency), any additional changes in the economy would benefit some people only by making others worse off. In the real world however, markets fail to achieve this social efficiency and one of the main reasons for this, is the existence of externalities.
An externality occurs when the welfare of individuals and corporate profits are affected not only by the actions of individuals themselves or their companies but also from acts of third parties. Whenever these individuals or their companies are affected beneficially, there are said to be positive externalities, whereas whenever these individuals or their companies are affected adversely, there are said to be negative externalities. A common example of a negative externality is environmental pollution. Pollution will be used for now on, instead of the more general term of “negative externality”. Continue reading

Consumer debt and mental health

[I recently applied for a job for which I had to produce a report on consumer debt and mental health. Even though I did not get the job, I did spent sometime to look over the issue so I am posting the report here.]

Consumer debt and mental health
Evidence has shown a clear association between consumer debt and mental health. Given the current financial crisis, extra measures are needed in order to deal with people affected. This note considers the published evidence on the above relationship, examines the current regulations and suggests what policies should be implemented in order to ensure that sensitive approaches are adopted for the benefit of the consumers, the health and social carers, and creditors.
 
Overview
·      There are clear links between consumer debt affecting mental health, and vice versa, even if the direction of causality has not been yet verified. Continue reading