Workshops – 5 year report

Newton’s Heirs Programme: The first 5 years of workshops (2008-2013)

Newton’s Apple Foundation Workshops

“An Introduction to Science Policy”

“The workshop was very informative and gave a clear introduction to science policy, how us as scientists can get involved and can shape the way of government policy. I highly recommend it. It has made me much more aware of how government operates for science and what each of the functions do.”

“It gears me to seek to play a more active role within my own learned societies and help with my expertise in physics and astronomy. I hope also that I can encourage my own generation of scientists to help shape they way of the future.”

“All in all, it was a great experience and we walked out knowing a little more about science policy making in the UK and the possible ways of making an impact. “

Introduction

“Newton’s Apple Foundation” is a non-partisan educational charity established with the objective of engendering mutual understanding between scientists, policy-makers and politicians thereby enhancing evidence-based policy making in the UK. Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) permeate our lives today and, as a nation, we face many challenges for which SET can offer solutions in areas such as, for example, health, energy production, sustainable food production, transport and climate change. It is important that regulation regarding new SET developments protects the public and our environment without impairing the application of new developments or preventing their effective exploitation. It is essential that our policy-makers and legislators are sufficiently equipped to understand and evaluate the scientific evidence. They need to be “intelligent customers” for new SET opportunities. In turn the SET community must be able, and willing, to explain the scientific method to policy-makers, and to communicate their science as advice in a clear and effective manner.

Many scientists are naive about policy matters and have had little or no training to allow them to translate their findings into something useful to policy-makers, or indeed to be effective communicators to non-scientists. Newton’s Apple has therefore developed the Newton’s Heirs Programme of “Introduction to Science Policy” Workshops. This programme was developed with the help of young research scientists, civil servants and politicians and is aimed at early career scientists and engineers. The main aim of the programme is to help scientists and engineers to understand how science policy is made and how they can communicate their science to policy makers. It 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 Workshops

Since the inception of the Newton’s Heirs programme in 2008 a total of 39 workshops have been held. Of these 16 were held in the Palace of Westminster, either in a Committee Room or in the Jubilee Room, 18 were held in Universities, three were held in the Institute of Physics and one each in the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Astronomical Society. Eleven of the Workshops were held in 2012-13.

The structure of the workshops

The workshops usually lasted for two to two and a half hours, when held in the Palace of Westminster, or for three hours when held in a university or other Institution. In order to encourage and not stifle free discussion and questioning the number of participants at each workshop is restricted to 30-35 participants. Each workshop follows a pattern which is now well established and, from the feedback received, meets most participants’ need for information. Each of the speakers brings his or her own unique experience to the workshops, and they also contribute ideas about how scientists can communicate their research to a policy audience.

After an introductory talk, outlining the structure of Government and Parliament, and their roles in policy making and scrutiny, the students were given information about how science is handled in Parliament, and in particular about the work of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committees. This talk is given either by one of our Trustees who is a serving MP, or one who served as an MP up to the last election. This is followed by a talk given by a senior civil servant, or one who has recently retired, from one of the Government departments pre-eminent in using science and technology. This explains how the Government obtains, and uses, scientific information, advice and data in the process of developing policy. The fourth talk is given by an executive from one of the major scientific Societies. The purpose of this is firstly to explain the role of the Learned Societies in providing advice to Government and Parliament on issues within their sphere of interest and influence; and secondly, and importantly, to emphasise the importance of practising scientists to be members of their relevant organisation, and active within it in providing information and ideas when the Society or Institution is called to respond to a Government or Parliamentary enquiry. We are usually surprised by the few postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers attending the workshops who are members of a Learned Society. Finally, a fifth element has been added to the programme more recently when the Workshop is held in a University, or otherwise away from Westminster where time in the room is limited. This new element aims to present some case studies providing actual examples of where the scientific community were effective in influencing Government policy, or new law in its making. It is hoped that these will serve to encourage participants to get involved themselves.

Each workshop participant is provided with copies of three Newton’s Apple publications:”Science Policy explained and explored“,”How Policy is made – A Short Guide” and “An introduction to Policy Making in the European Union.” These provide further, and more detailed, information about the Policy arena. In addition they also received copies of the Newton’s Apple “Directory of Useful Science Policy Websites.”

Assessment of the Workshops

In order to assess the effectiveness of these workshops, and also to gain some information from the participants which could be useful when we are considering the content of future workshops, all those attending our workshops are asked to complete a feedback form. This asks the participants to provide an estimate of their level of understanding of the involvement of Government and Parliament in the formulation of policy, and the processes involved, prior to attending the workshop.

We have set four levels of understanding:-
 No understanding
 Some understanding
 Good understanding
 In-depth understanding

They were then asked to repeat this exercise but in relation to their level of knowledge and understanding at the end of the workshop. Although this is clearly a somewhat subjective means of assessment, from the answers provided we are able to gain some idea of the effectiveness of each of the workshops according to how the ratings moved as a result of it. We now have feedback information from the great majority of the participants attending all of the workshops since the launch of the Newton’s Heirs Programme. Participants were also given the opportunity on the feedback forms to comment on the workshop they attended. (A selection of comments is appended)

Level of knowledge before the workshops

The assessments of their degree of understanding of the processes involved in the formulation and execution of policy in Government and Parliament before they attended the workshop made by the workshop participants are summarised in Table 1.

Many scientists are naive about policy matters and they have had little or no training to allow them to translate their findings into something useful to policy-makers, or indeed to be effective communicators to non-scientists. This is reflected in the feedback received which clearly indicates that the great majority of the workshop participants had little or no previous understanding of the processes by which policy is formulated and implemented. The pattern of levels of understanding in the most recent workshops was very little different from those we found across all the workshops.

Table 1.

Levels of Understanding of Workshop Participants

prior to the Workshops

Level of                     All Workshops                       2012-3 Workshops                      

Understanding       No.       %       %Range           No.        %       % Range

None                    340       38.5         8 -75             109        37.7       24 – 52

Some                    481      54.4       31 – 75            160        55.4       44 – 66

Good                      58        6.6         0 – 18              19         6.6         0 – 13

In-depth                  5        0.6        0 – 0.3                1         0.3        0 – 0.3

Total                     884                                            289

 

The impact of the workshops on participants understanding

The participants’ post-workshop self-assessments are shown in Table 2. It will be seen that there was longer any student who now claimed to continue to have no knowledge of policy and the processes involved. There was, furthermore, a significant increase in the number of participants claiming to have a good understanding and a more than tenfold increase in those who claimed to have gained an in-depth understanding. This pattern of response was consistent across all of the workshops.

Table 2.

Levels of Understanding of Workshop Participants

after the Workshops

Level of                     All Workshops                       2012-3 Workshops                      

Understanding       No.        %     %Range           No.        %         % Range

 None                        0          0              0                 0            0            0

Some                    225       25.4          8 – 42           74         25.6          9-41

Good                     581       65.6        51 -80           189         65.4        51-80

In-depth                78         8.8          3 – 19             26          9.0         3-19

Total                      884                                         289

The data from the feedback forms may also be examined according to the degree of movement up our scale of levels by workshop participants from their starting position, and the results are shown in Table 3. Most of the responses indicate an increase in understanding of at least one level. Not surprisingly the majority of those indicating a two level rise came from the group that started off with “no understanding”. Those showing no change from their initial level were mainly in the groups claiming an initial “Good” or “In-depth” level of understanding.

Table 3

Movement in levels of understanding

following Workshops

 

Change in                  All                            2012-3                     

Level of                   Workshops                Workshops

Understanding         No.         %              No.          %       

 No change             78            8.9              25          8.7

1 level                   610          69.0            202         69.9

2 levels                 189           21.3             59         20.4

3 levels                     7             0.8              3           1.0

Total                      884                                  289

From this feedback received from the participants it is clear that these workshops are having some effect in improving the knowledge of the processes underlying the formulation and implementation of policy and roles of Government and Parliament in these young scientists. It is hoped that this better understanding will encourage them to get involved where issues relevant to their interests arise, and also put them in a better position to respond to Government and Parliamentary Inquiries and other calls for evidence than hitherto.

Why do young Scientists attend the workshops?

We experienced an unexpected demand for the workshops towards the end on 2012 whe we hade over 200 applicants for the 35 available places. We have therefore sought to understand the motivation which lies behind the interest in these Science Policy events. In the case of the last 10 workshops we have included an additional question – “Why did you attend this Workshop.” The answers received covered a range of reasons which were condensed into three categories, with a fourth “No Indication” Group. The majority of participants (221) however provided a reason. The results are shown in table 4.

From this it will be seen that the majority of the participants attended the workshop either out of a general interest in the area, or wanted to learn something about how they could, as scientists and engineers could influence future policy. This later motive we found encouraging. A surprising number of the participants came because they were considering careers in the Government service or other policy areas.

Table 4  

Motives for attending Workshops

Reasons for                                 No. of           % all        % of those

attending                                  feedbacks     feedback    indicating a

                                                                                               motive  

   Careers in Government

and policy                                   68                 26.1             31.2

 

How to Influence Policy              79                30.4              36.7

General Interest                          74                28.5              34.8

No indication                                39                15.0               –

Total                                           260                100              (221)

 

Comments provided by Participants

A majority of those taking part in the workshops provided comments on the event and what they found useful, or otherwise. A representative sample is included in a an appendix to this report. Most of the comments were constructive and often complimentary. The main criticisms was that there was insufficient time available. One regular comment that recurred in most of the workshops was the suggestion that training of the sort provided by the Newton’s Heirs workshops should be included in the curriculum for the training of most science, engineering and technology postgraduates.

Many of the comments provided some very constructive suggestions for future workshops and these have been taken into account in the continual development of the Newton’s Heirs programme. For example, the introductions of our “Directory of Useful Science Policy Websites” and the production of our booklets “How Policy is made – a Short Guide” and “ An Introduction to Policy making in the European Union” were in direct response to suggestions from participants.

Some Conclusions

It is clear that this workshop programme is meeting a real need of early career scientists and engineers for information about policy formation in the UK and how to become involved. The feedback we have obtained from participants has been good and has clearly indicated that the workshops are serving a purpose which is not being met elsewhere. It is encouraging that there is awakening in this community of a real interest in these matters. Over the 39 workshops we have seen, in the discussions, an increasing interest among participants in career prospects in the policy arena. A few participants have indicated that they now intend to find their careers in Government and Parliamentary departments.

The feedback forms have been kept deliberately simple and uncomplicated in order to encourage their completion and return. No detailed definitions of what knowledge or understanding should be expected at each level are given apart from the simple categorisation of each level. Because of this our return rate has generally been excellent from most workshops. The form calls for a self-assessment to score the levels of understanding by the participants prior to, and after, the events and so these are necessarily subjective. We believe however that they do give a reasonable indication of the benefit that participants have received by attendance at the workshop. The self-assessment scoring is supplemented by the comments provided on the form and these confirm the broad conclusions that can be drawn from the scoring scheme.

It must be remembered that the prime purpose of these workshops is to provide an “Introduction to Science Policy”. They are therefore aimed at those with either no, or only a cursory, understanding of policy matters – that is those falling into the “no understanding” or “some understanding” groups before the workshop. However a significant proportion of those coming with a self-assessed “good understanding” have also gained from the workshop.

Our experience with the Newton’s heirs programme to date suggest that it would be beneficial for these workshops to be made more widely available in the regions, and not confine them to London which inevitably restricts access to them. We have been encouraged by the wider geographical representation in those workshops run in partnership with the Institute of Physics. This was almost certainly encouraged by the Institute offering bursaries for attendees to contribute to their travel costs. Experience with workshops in the Universities of East Anglia, Hull and Durham have shown that they can be successfully provided in other venues away from the Capital and we seek to encourage other Higher Education institutions to consider including Newton’s Heirs workshops as part of their postgraduate STEM programmes.

One recurring theme in the feedback comments is the desire of a number of participants to take their understanding of policy matters further, and to enlarge on what they have learnt through the workshops. We are therefore currently looking at ways of providing further workshops to give more detailed exposure to particular aspects of the policy making processes.

Acknowledgements

It is a pleasure to acknowledge the help that Newton’s Apple has received from many people in the planning and execution of our Newton’s Heirs workshop programme. In particular we are grateful to our two former directors of the Foundation, Mia Nybrant and Gillian Pepper, for the energy and enthusiasm that they brought to the project; and also the members of the Newton’s Heirs steering Committee for their work in establishing the need for these workshops and for creating a pattern for them which has proved so successful and durable. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to all who have contributed to the workshops as members of the speaker panel – our MP trustees, civil servants from Government departments, and in particular BIS and DEFRA and their predecessor departments, the officers of various Learned Societies and representatives of other organisations who contributed their experience of policy in action and those contributing examples of how policy decisions may be influenced by good evidence. Without all of their very willing and enthusiastic help, so freely given, these workshops would not have been possible. We also thank all those young scientists who contributed to the workshops as participants for their feedback and suggestions. We have found these invaluable in fine tuning these events and for planning our future development of new workshops. We are grateful to those members of staff of the Universities of East Anglia, Hull, Durham and University College London for their support and encouragement, and making it possible for us to take these workshops out of Westminster and bring them to a wider audience. It is a pleasure also to acknowledge our partnership with the Institute of Physics through which it has been possible to engage the UK’s Physics community in understanding policy matters. Finally we thank the Trustees of the Foundation, both past and present, for their support and encouragement, and particularly those who have played active and energetic parts in the workshop programme as members of the panel and, together with their members of staff, for the efficient arranging of venues for these events.

Appendix

Some representative comments from Workshop Participants
“ I thought it was a great training session.”
“All the different speakers were linked very well.”
“ [I liked] the explanations of the different ways we can affect policy.”
“[I liked] the presentations with examples of how science influenced policy – would have benefited from more input regarding how policy has positively/negatively affected science – i.e why does policy affect me and my research.”
“Good outline of how science evidence and politics work together.
“[I liked] being encouraged to get involved with local MPs and Parliament in various ways.”
“[I liked] the breadth of speakers from all through science policy making. It was really good although the discussion at the end could have been longer.”
“It was a really very useful and informative workshop. Selection of speakers was good and everyone provided easy to understand the process of policy making and related concepts.”
“ [I liked] the case studies and the debates.”
“[I liked] the overview of the Select Committee and case study examples.”
“[ I liked] the straight talking presentations with interesting case studies – a very enjoyable session.”
“Very informative: lots of information presented by engaging speakers. Speakers perhaps missed the significance/depth of the issue surrounding the distance from London and how this can exclude things.”
“The speakers were all extremely clear and enthusiastic about their work and their subjects. It is very encouraging.”
“I liked hearing about how the policy process was explained with first hand examples.”
“The MP speaker gave a good step-by-step scheme for translating scientific work into policy.”
“I appreciated the MP’s realistic appraisal of the process.”
“Getting the MP’s perspective was very enlightening – really useful and interesting”
“The former MP was very good. Good to see what is the structure of Government. Wonder how much can be done as the scientists have to work within the politics of the University. Therefore difficult to put your head above the parapet.”
“Workshop was very interesting. I particularly liked the Civil Servant’s contribution. ”
“ I liked the talks on lessons for campaigning and how DEFRA works.”
“The Civil Servant’s talk was very useful in terms of how the University can engage with the Civil Service. Perhaps could widen this to include how university communication/media offices can help organisations get their messages across to policy makers.”
“I liked the presentation on the importance of the Learned Societies and the discussion parts. Could have done with more discussion.”
“The recommendations for how to get involved were very useful – the Learned Society speaker was very enlightening – gave useful information.”
“I liked the information regarding the importance of Learned Societies in the influencing of science policy.”
“I loved the comments from the Royal Society of Chemistry science policy representative. Very good contributions from all the speakers.”
“ It was great to be told a few practical examples (of how policy can be influenced) to be able to understand these issues in a good way for people with not much knowledge about these sorts of situations.!”
“ The open discussion at the end of the session was very interesting and informative.”
“I particularly liked the question/discussion time – it could have been longer.”
“Discussion session at the end was most useful; able to ask specific questions – speakers opinions very valuable.”
“I really enjoyed all of it. My only comment is that it was too short, I would have liked to hear more.”
“Down-to-earth approach very much appreciated and very refreshing.”
“There was no talk today that I disliked, which is very unusual for a PPD Course. Fantastic talks,”
“What I liked most about this session was the variety and also the passion with which this was delivered.”
“ A very informative session – it provided excellent leads for further information and how to approach problems relating to Science Policy and how to get involved.”
“The handouts were particularly useful, especially the list of websites, for finding further information. The speakers were very good and it was especially useful to hear about policy from the side of parliament and government.”
“Booklets clearly written outlining major players.”
“I will find the ’Directory of useful Science Websites’ particularly useful’.”
“The materials provided will be very useful for me and I will look up several of the reports mentioned.”
“Really good accompanying materials – Nice format – good intro and nice to get lots of different perspectives from the panel.”
“ I am more interested in Science Policy now.”
“Overall I found it very informative with regards to science policies – with plenty of encouragement to consider engaging in science policy myself.”
“I’m surprised it is not made into a larger event as there is not many opportunities around to learn about policy form experts.”
“I would highly recommend this and similar workshops to my peers. I think it is important for scientists to know about science policy and science in Government.”
“I believe that all science degrees and postgraduate study should include assignments on science policy and awareness to allow more communication and understanding between scientists and politicians.”
“Great – this should be more widely offered – eg in Universities and career services.”
“I came in not knowing anything about science policy and have some know-how now.”
“An Excellent overview –also valuable info on where to look next.”