People always say that the most useful aspect of the AAAS Annual Meeting is the networking. So we decided that rather than run a session where people were talked at for an hour or more, instead we’d spend that time doing knowledge exchange on the topic of legislative science advice.
Science advice to legislatures is a growing field of academic and practitioner interest. From the US, which is considering re-establishing something like the old Office of Technology Assessment, to Spain, which is in the process of establishing its first ever national parliamentary science advisory body, countries around the world are working on how to get the latest scientific and technical information to their politicians.
The knowledge exchange session allowed participants to discover and share experiences in legislative science advice. The participants were people from several countries who have worked as legislative science advisers or who have provided advice to legislatures from the outside. They discussed five key questions.
- Why is legislative science advice (LSA) important to your institution?
Views ranged from various institutional roles as a provider of clear, concise, actionable advice to policymakers to supporting science-based policies to ensure the safety, security, and economic competitiveness of future generations.
- What LSA activity are you most proud of?
A very wide range of claims to fame came about from this question highlighting the enormous, albeit largely undocumented, strides made for legislative science advice. People reflected on projects, reports, fellowships, conversations, workshops and institutional changes. There is a lot going on.
- Examples of LSA best or worst practice?
This question led to some revealing observations about how science advice can go well and badly. For example, people were appalled at some situations where the science and scientists were politicised, where the cultures of politics and science clashed, and where politicians focus in on the ‘good news’ aspects of science advice and ignore the rest. But there were also lots of examples of best practice, from building long-term productive relationships between scientists and policy makers, to training programmes that equip academics with the skills needed to engage with policy makers.
- What are you going to do in the next 12 months?
A lot! Without going into programmatic details, people will be growing their institutions, producing more reports, events and fellowships, increasing opportunities for engagement between scientists and policy makers, and promoting diversity.
- What do you see as the biggest challenge in your context?
While challenges were everywhere, the overall mood was positive. From institutional challenges of growth to political challenges of engagement and cultural challenges between scientists and policy makers, participants saw their challenges as opportunities.
Beyond the shared learning, the format of the session meant there was fantastic energy in the room and that business cards were flying around in abundance. If you weren’t able to join us, we’re really sorry we missed you; hopefully we’ll be able to do something again like this soon – be it face to face or virtually. And when you’re next planning to bring together diverse experts, we’d definitely suggest considering parking the PowerPoint presentation and facilitating a knowledge exchange session instead.