WEF Young Scientists call to address Missing Link between policy and science

Scientists from the World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists community want to see the social value of scientific research better recognised and acknowledged. Published today by Frontiers Policy Labs, a call has been signed by 52 scholars from some of the world’s foremost academic institutions. The signatories say that for science to become rooted in decision-making, a new culture of engagement between policymakers and scientists needs to be established.

The initiative, spearheaded by University College London’s Professor and WEF Young Scientist Ruth Morgan, urges institutions to do more to support researchers in policy engagement. Professor Morgan says we must change the way this crucial work of researchers is recognised if we are to allow for a more meaningful and impactful dialogue between policymakers and scientists.

Prof. Ruth Morgan (photo credit Louise Perkins)

Professor Ruth Morgan said, “Groundbreaking, pioneering science is step one, but we also need to get that science into the hands of those working in policy who can use it to change the world for the better. There’s no quick fix, it takes time to build relationships over months and years.

“If we can create opportunities for scientists and policy makers to be in ongoing conversations, we will be able to tackle the big challenges coming our way better.  We hope this initiative can be a starting point for a broader conversation amongst global leaders and institutions about how we can make this happen.”

Professor Morgan says that 100 million hours dedicated to scientific policy engagement could be created each year if institutions were to encourage just 10% of scientists in public service, around 1 million people, with two hours per week to focus on the task.

Forming stronger bonds between science and policy

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes have turned to science and the need for greater emphasis on evidence-led decision-making. The initiative’s 52 signatories are World Economic Forum Young Scientists past and present from all over the world who believe that if this happens, a ripple effect could be created and more science in other fields would make its way into the hands of policymakers to inform their decisions.

Dr. Frederick Fenter is chief executive editor of Frontiers, the academic publisher behind Policy Labs who published the call. Policy Labs was launched in 2020 to strengthen the connection between robust scientific research and informed policymaking.

Dr. Frederick Fenter (photo credit Frontiers)

“Many of the challenges we face as a global society – in relation to human well-being and planetary health – can only be addressed successfully and sustainably with the help of dedicated, level-headed experts who can translate the implications of research into evidence-based policy.

“What the Policy Labs has taught us is that most researchers want to engage with the policy process. And this piece shows that at present, it remains very challenging for them to do so,” says Dr Fenter. “We also welcome recent efforts by the EU to reform research assessment, and we believe the issue highlighted in Professor Morgan’s piece should be a central part of that process. The pandemic and our response to it has resoundingly demonstrated that we must act now, in earnest, to strengthen the link between scientific evidence and policy.”

Rethinking research evaluation

The World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists say scientists are not often incentivised to devote time to engage in the conversations that build networks and bridges beyond their discipline. As a result, critical scientific research does not always end up in the hands of those that can deploy it for the good of society and opportunities to solve problems may be missed.

“Rather than wheeling out scientists in times of crisis, the world could benefit from stronger, more consistent interactions between scientists and policymakers,” says Greta Keenan, Young Scientists Community Manager at the World Economic Forum. “As the international organization for public private partnership, we recognize the importance of giving scientists a seat at the table, and supporting rising-star scientists develop the systems leadership skills required to solve global challenges.”

The paper suggests that if we are to ensure science contributes to society, we must incorporate measures in the assessment of scientific excellence that value and reward science engagement in policy. Assessing excellence based on a system that incorporates and rewards these contributions and the skills involved in providing evidence to policymaking – whether that is in written, oral or visual format – is highly important.

The article can be accessed in full at: The missing link of science in policy – 1M scientists and 100M hours could be part of the answer

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