By Alan Mercer, Sciencewise Programme Director, Sciencewise
In 2014/15, RPA carried out an independent evaluation of the overall activities, achievements and impacts of the current Sciencewise programme. Their report was published shortly before purdah at the end of March 2015.
As the Sciencewise Programme Director, I am delighted to take this opportunity to respond to the findings and to highlight how the programme is taking forward the evaluation recommendations.
Firstly I would like to congratulate and to thank RPA on the breadth, the depth, and coverage and quality of the work they have undertaken. Sciencewise is a complex, highly integrated programme and RPA has very quickly understood our overall aims and objectives. In my view their report – published on the Sciencewise website – is a comprehensive and reasonable summary of the achievements of the programme. I would also like to thank many partners that have helped us in this evaluation work. This includes Judith Petts who chaired our evaluation oversight group, the members of the oversight group (details here), the many stakeholders (especially at BIS) who spared time to be interviewed, to Diane Warburton for the delivery of the evaluation and to the rest of the Sciencewise team for their time in support of the RPA work. The support from the oversight group was very valuable during and after the formal evaluation process, including the piece by one member as the report was published.
We are delighted that the evaluation was able to identify hard evidence that the Programme is impacting on policy formation. All of our supported activities are designed to be influencing policy, policy making or policy makers, and we are well aware of the challenges of attributing change to a specific initiative such as the Sciencewise programme. It is clear from the report that RPA found that all of our support to dialogue projects has been successful in informing those involved in the development of that policy. I am also delighted to see how the report has highlighted the increasing levels of interest, and in capability, across Whitehall and its agencies for undertaking dialogue with the public on policy involving science and technology.
There is much for us to learn within the report, and we are continuing to develop our approach and activities accordingly to maximise our influence and impact. We agree with all the key recommendations and subject to resource constraints these feature strongly in our plans for the forthcoming year. For example:
• We are active in improving visibility of Sciencewise with key target policy and decision makers. We are targeting to significantly increase this visibility with those communities involved with the emerging technologies identified by Government as offering the greatest potential for growth in the UK. In addition we are continuing to build our links with existing Department contacts and to enhance our support for training and awareness raising activities in other Departments.
• We agree that the involvement of the public will be increased by increasing the range of ways of bringing the views of the public into policy. We are engaging with policy makers on what new methods are needed, and are already piloting new lower cost and quicker alternatives.
• With the value of public dialogue becoming more widely understood, as recommended, we are revising the levels of funding support being offered through the programme. Our focus is on the emerging technologies offering the potential for growth. Other potential opportunities for dialogue and Sciencewise support will be considered on a case by case basis but against a background of a reduced level of support and an expectation of the commissioning agent contributing a greater proportion of the costs.
• We agree with the recommendation for Sciencewise to explore how findings of the public views expressed in previous dialogues could be applied to new public dialogue topics. As part of considering alternative ways of bringing public views into policy, we are enhancing our work to understand and make readily available information on what is already known.
This evaluation has provided a valuable insight into the benefits of the BIS investment in the programme. I think it shows the excellent progress being made, as well as contributing valuable recommendations and highlighting what is still needed for dialogue to be truly embedded. There is much for Sciencewise and for all involved in dialogue with the public to consider.