Science policy involves the combination of scientific expertise with knowledge and understanding of government and policy making, decision making and scrutiny processes to ensure that legislation and policy have a sound evidence base.
Science policy can be considered in two strands: policy for science and science for policy. The former involves ensuring that the appropriate landscape exists to allow effective research and includes issues of science funding, education, infrastructure and representation of disadvantaged groups. Science for policy involves making sure that the Government and other organisations are equipped with the appropriate scientific information when making policy decisions.
At the Royal Society of Biology, we are active in both of these areas.
Those who work in science policy act between research scientists and policy-makers and aim to identify and shuttle important and relevant information between the two communities. An element of translation involved; it is vital that the information is received using language and in a format that is understandable to the target audience.
Science policy work can take both reactive and proactive approaches. Reactive work can often involve responding to consultations issued from the Government and other organisations and serves to ensure that vital scientific information and the opinions of the scientific community are heard. The evidence provided is then used to inform policy decisions. Proactive policy work can involve highlighting key issues and striving to ensure that these are placed on and/or promoted up policy maker’s agendas.
Science policy can involve a lot of acronyms and jargon. To help, the Society has produced an acronym buster.
Those who work in science policy can be found in a range of guises and in a variety of sectors - a reflection of the number of different areas where science has an influence in policy formulation. The Government, parliament, learned societies, charities, universities, campaigning groups, research institutes and non-governmental organisations are all examples of areas where those working in science policy can be found.
The scientific advice that those in science policy are able to channel can only be as good as the information and feedback they receive. Thus engagement of the research community with science policy is vital. This can be done by working with those in science policy or by liaising directly with policymakers (e.g. parliamentarians).
Dr Daniela Diefenbacher (Science Policy Advisor, Royal Society of Biology)
I graduated in Germany with a BEng degree in biotechnology. The course had a strong focus on engineering but also allowed me to gain practical experience in genetic (medical) diagnostics. After my studies, I was keen to work abroad and headed to London where I worked as a research technician and scientific officer at the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (King’s College London). After developing a fascination for this research I did a PhD in the same lab in collaboration with a German institute. After finishing my doctorate I decided to work outside of academia but within science – this was not an easy step to make.
To begin with, I worked as a life science recruitment consultant. The focus was suddenly on customer service and sales and was very different to my previous academic environment but the experience was still valuable. Biology Week sparked my interest in the Society of Biology and some weeks later the marketing team welcomed me as a volunteer. Attending a parliamentary reception was a highlight and, in turn, got me interested in science policy. I’ve worked as a science policy officer for a year now and I am still surprised about the advantages I’ve gained as a result of my diverse background. Every day involves different tasks; from scientific reading, drafting documents, political discussions, organising meetings, to social media, web editing and public engagement. I really enjoy this variety!