Science Policy Workshops for Universities

About Newton’s Apple Foundation and why we run workshops for Universities

Newton’s Apple Foundation was established in 2006 as an initiative by a group of MP members of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Specialist advisors to the Committee and Civil Servants. The Foundation was seen as a response to the lack of engagement by the rank and file of the scientific community to calls for evidence by the Committee and also by Government Departments for their various inquiries. Such input was thought to be important given that Science. Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) now permeate so many aspects of modern life and often have the possibility of offering solutions to the various challenges that our Society faces today: Challenges in areas such as health, energy production, sustainable food production, transport and climate change.  We felt that it was important that, when regulation is deemed necessary for new STEM developments, these regulations are effective without impairing the exploitation or application of new developments and innovations. Thus it is important that policy makers, whether in Government or Parliament, have access to good STEM evidence on which to base their actions and are sufficiently well equipped to understand and evaluate such evidence.

Newton’s Apple was created to provide a neutral platform for scientists, technologists and engineers to interact with others in society, in particular policy makers, to increase the understanding of underlying principles and methodologies, societal contexts and the potential uses of science and novel technologies. The role of Newton’s Apple is to act as a “translator” between the scientific and policy-making communities. Newton’s Apple obtained Charitable status in November 2007 and is a Limited Company by Guarantee.

We believe that to enable the maximum benefit to society it is vital that STEM communities are able and willing to communicate their science as advice in a clear and effective manner. They must also become actively engaged with the policy makers in order to achieve mutual understanding. One major problem in achieving this end however is that many scientists are not engaged with policy. Their training has produced excellent STEM personnel for our Universities and science based Companies but they have been given little, or no, training to support their ability to translate their findings into something useful to policy-makers.  To meet this need we have developed our Newton’s Heirs Programme of “Introduction to Science Policy” Workshops with help of early career research scientists, civil servants and politicians. This programme was launched in October 2008 with an event in the House of Commons at which the then Minister of Science Lord Drayson and the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington welcomed this much needed initiative. The programme has since become a major activity over the last 6 years we have now run 52 workshops directed towards early career scientists, technologists and engineers.

These workshops are intended to provide post-graduate, post-doctoral and other early career researchers with information about how policy is formulated by Government and given effect to by Parliament. We also cover when, and how, policies may include considerations of science and technology as either the subject matter of a policy, or as evidence to support a policy. Our workshops provide an opportunity for the students to engage with individuals who are, or who have been, actively involved with policy and law-making or in providing advice to Government or Parliament. Guidance is also given on how researchers can become involved in providing evidence or advice to policy makers and legislators during the processes involved in policy making. Some of the Workshops are held in House of Commons Committee rooms through the sponsorship of our Trustee MPs who are active participants in them. However, we are increasingly being asked to provide the workshops within universities. We are able to do so for English or Welsh Universities, as a single workshop or more usually as two identical back-to-back workshops on the same day. We usually limit the number of students attending to 30 in order to encourage active discussion with the speakers.

The Structure of the Workshops

The programme includes:

  • An introductory talk on to the structure of Government and Parliament, and the routes which can be used to contact policy makers and legislators;

This is followed by talks on –

  • Science in Parliament;
  • The Government’s use of Science in policy consideration and formulation;
  • The role of the Learned Societies and similar bodies in providing advice to Government and influencing policy;

And, for University workshops,

  • Case studies of situations where the SET community has influenced the direction of policy and legislation.

Speakers are individuals who are, or who have been, actively involved in the processes of policy making. They include serving, or recently retired MPs, civil servants from science relevant Government Departments and senior officers from the major SET Learned Societies or industry.  The participants are encouraged to ask questions of the speakers following each presentation and also during the period of general discussion.

In addition to the talks we also provide all participants with our leaflet “A Directory of Useful Science Policy Websites” and also copies of the following Newton’s Apple Science Policy booklets:

  1. “Science Policy Explained and Explored”
  2. How Policy is made – A Short Guide”
  3. “An Introduction to Policy Making the European Union”

Feedback from workshops

To date approaching 1300 researchers have attended the workshops.At the end of each workshop the participants are asked to complete a feedback form and on average about 85% of participants complete the form.  This indicates their level of understanding of policy matters at the start of the workshop on a four point scale from “no understanding” to “an in-depth understanding.”

Overall we have found that, after the workshops, 70% of participants move up at least one point on our understanding scale, while a further 22% claim to have moved up 2-3 points in their understanding. The few that did not move up were those already on a higher point at the start of the workshop, but from their comments they clearly still find the workshops useful.

Workshops costs

The costs of workshops will depend on the number and arrangements. Typical arrangements are as follows:

  1. Two back-to-back workshops on the same day – up to 50-70 students in total – £2,000
  2. Single one session workshops – up to 20-35 students –
  3. A single morning  workshop (requiring overnight accommodation for the panel members) –   £1,200
  4. A single afternoon workshop –  £1000

Some comments from Workshop participants.

“(The Workshop) has made me aware of how little I know about the process post research – This should be taught in Science degrees and not in voluntary workshops.”

“The booklets handed out were excellent.”

“All talks were excellent.  Would like to know how foreign students can be involved.”

 “I liked… the relation of real science applications to politics – liked the embryo talk.”

“Very clear information – easy to understand.”

“I enjoyed learning how we as scientists can get involved with Government.”

“Good definition of terms for people not from policy backgrounds. 

 “I liked the personal insights into policy and the workings of Parliament”

“Great Fun!  Always good to hear from experts on a subject they are passionate about.”

“The introduction of policy-making process and organisations is very useful for me.”

 “I liked… the descriptions of the processes of Government and the links between government and Science.”

 “The MP’s talk was great, a nice example of how science and research is used in Government.”

“l liked and enjoyed the session covering funding the research budget in HEIs.”

 “The resource persons (i.e. speakers) are well grounded in their areas of expertise.”

“This will be a good start for learning about some policy-making procedures and legislation for the relevant science.”