The last formal event was a question and answer session with Professor Robin Grimes, the Chief Scientific Advisor for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (@foreignoffice). I’ll recover from Question Time and talk about it later. The talk appears to have a secondary title of “The Role of the CSA Network, CSAs in SAGE, the CSA in the FCO & SIN”. Professor Grimes started by talking about the longstanding research collaboration between the UK and AUS. Apparently, it’s a unique relationship (in the positive sense), according to William Hague. Once again, we come back to explaining things to non-scientists or other scientists.
There are apparently a number of Chief Scientists who belong to the CSA Network, SAGE – Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – and the Science and Innovation Network (SIN). (It’s all a bit Quartermass really.) And here’s a picture that the speaker refers to as a rogue’s gallery. We then saw a patchwork quilt that shows how the UK Government Science Advisory Structure, which basically says that they work through permanent secretaries and ministers and other offices – imagine a patchwork quilt representation of the wars in the Netherlands as interpreted by Mondrian in pastoral shades and you have this diagram. There is also another complex diagram that shows that laboratories are many and advisors scale.
Did you know that there is a UK National Risk Register? Well, there is, and there’s a diagram with blue blobs and type I can’t see from the back of the room to talk about it. (Someone did ask why they couldn’t read it and the speaker joked that it was restricted. More seriously, things are rated on their relative likelihood and relative impact.
The UK CSAs and FCO CS are all about communication, mostly by acronym apparently. (I kid.) Also, Stanley Baldwin’s wife could rock a hat. More seriously, fracking is an example of poor communication. Scientific concerns (methane release, seismic events and loss of aquifer integrity) are not meeting the community concerns of general opposition to oil and gas and the NIMBY approach. The speaker also mentioned the L’Aquila incident, where scientists were convicted of a crime for making an incorrect estimation of the likelihood of a seismic event. What does this mean for scientific advice generally? (Hint: don’t give scientific advice in Italy.) Scientists should feel free to express their view and understanding conceding risks, their mitigation and management, freely to the government. If actions discourage scientists from coming forward, then it;s highly undesirable. (UK is common law so the first legal case will be really, really interesting in this regard.)
What is the role of the CSA in emergencies? This is where SAGE comes in. They are “responsible for coordinating and peer reviewing, as far as possible, scientific and technical advice to inform decision-making”. This is chaired by the GCSA, who report to COBRA (seriously! It’s the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A) and includes CSAs, sector experts and independent scientists. So swine flu, volcanic ash cloud, Fukushima and the Ash die-back – put up the SAGE signal!
What’s happened with SAGE intervention? Better relationships with science diplomacy. Also, when the media goes well, there is a lot of good news to be had.
The Foreign Office gets science-based advice which relate to security, prosperity and consular – the three priorities of the Foreign Office. It seems that everyone has more science than us. There are networks for Science Networks, Science Evidence and Scientific Leadership, but the Foreign Office is a science-using rather than a science-producing department. There is no dedicated local R&D, scientists and engineer cadre or a departmental science advisory committee.
The Science and Innovation Network (SIN) has two parent departments, Foreign Office (FCO) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS, hoho). And we saw a slide with a lot of acronyms. This is the equivalent of the parents being Department of Industry and DFAT for our system. 90 people over 28 countries and territories, across 46 cities. There’s even one here (where here is Melbourne and Canberra). (So we support UK scientists coming out to do cool science here. Which is good. If only we had a Minister for Science, eh?) Apparently they produce newsletters and all sorts of tasty things.
They even talk to the EU (relatively often) and travels to the EU quite frequently in an attempt to make the relationships work through the EU and bi-laterally. There aren’t as many Science and Innovation officers in the EU as they can deal directly with the EU. There are also apparently a lot of student opportunities (sound of ears pricking up) but it’s for UK students coming to us. There are also opportunities for UK-origin scientists to either work back in the UK or for them to bring out UK academics that they know. (Paging Martin White!)
There is a Newton Fund (being developed at the moment), a science-based aid program for countries that are eligible for official development assistance (ODA) and this could be a bi-lateral UK-AUS collaboration.
Well, that’s it for the formal program. There’s going to be some wrap-up and then drinks with Adam Bandt, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Hope you’ve enjoyed this!
We had a midday meeting scheduled with Mrs Karen Andrews MP, Member for McPherson in Queensland, Liberal Party. Mrs Andrews gave an excellent speech on her role as Chair as the Parliamentary Friends of Science, a bipartisan (and very large) group of parliamentarians who support science and scientific endeavours. Given the current absence of a dedicated Federal Minister for Science, a group of 76 cross-party and bicameral representatives is a great start.
The Parliamentary Friends of Science has three primary goals:
- To enable a meaningful dialogue between scientific leaders and parliamentarians about the science that underpins policy and to inform political debate.
- To provide a forum for eminent Australian and visiting scientists to engage with parliamentarians.
- To provide a mechanism for parliamentarians to seek expertise from scientists in relevant disciplines.
(All rather hard to argue with, really.)
The group going to Mrs Andrews included an Astrophysicist, a Radiation Specialist and your humble narrator, who is (if I may remind you) representing Computing Research and Education (CORE). The existence of the bipartisan committee focused on science, chaired by someone with a strong focus on education and early childhood education, was a fantastic start and our group happily complimented the member on her speech and the overall initiative. I then moved on to ask about the National Curriculum, currently under review, and whether the science, maths and digital technology aspects of that curriculum were on that group’s radar, as the near-future release and approval of the curriculum would be a great help to all of the bodies involved (ACARA, Schools, Teachers and resource providers like CSER Digital Technologies – of course). Mrs Andrews agreed that this was something that they should be worried about and, of course, there’re a lot of steps between that and the Federal Minister for Education releasing the curriculum but it’s a start. We don’t have enough STEM graduates because we don’t have enough people going to Uni because not enough people study the pre-requsities in Uni – a lot of which stems (ha ha) from a less than stellar experience early on and low overall support. Once again, this is never about the dedication or ability of teachers, it’s about having an appropriate skill set to be comfortable and confident with material. You can’t expect a junior primary teacher to suddenly become a computer skills teacher overnight and without help – more reinforcement that the National Curriculum is a great thing but support for it is essential.
Of course, my colleague the astrophysicist had a really big telescope to talk about and he leapt in with an invitation to visit. I always feel that computing is a little bit of a disadvantage here as the awesomeness of our endeavours can be seen on just about any screen, which can rob it a little of its majesty! My colleague in radiation (and there are lots of radiation people here, incidentally) talked about support for information resources and future developments.
I did have a chance to talk about the MOOC support in the CSER project and the whole group concurred on the importance of science education, from early stages all the way through to the end of university. Mrs Andrews was on a working group while in opposition that looked into on-line learning and MOOCs, before the explosion that we’re currently seeing, so was very well versed in it. This is both great and slightly a shame: great because it’s always good to have informed parliamentarians but a shame because I’m far less impressive when people know what I’m talking about. ( 🙂 ) Mrs Andrews welcomed the opportunity to get more information from our sector on those developments in computing education.
That was it, all done in 15 minutes as Parliamentarians are a very busy lot. Across the days I’ve been trying to represent both Computing Research and Education, but the fates decreed that my meeting would be far more involved with someone who is working across both through personal interest and chairing committees in the house. In terms of who I could have spoken to, it’s the best result I could have achieved in terms of possible impact and awareness.
This has been a great day so far, and we have question time yet to come! I cannot live blog that event as it is an electronics-free event, so my apologies. I may try to summarise it but, for once, I may yield to my humanity and just experience it.
As noted on Twitter, I couldn’t live blog the dinner as hauling a laptop to dinner is a gauche and I cannot keep up with the speeches on a tablet. (Note to Apple and Microsoft: if you need a beta tester to give your next keyless keyboard a workout, I will volunteer.) The dinner was good, with a lot of interesting speakers, and the official National Treasure, Robin Williams, being a very … diplomatic MC. Points on the night for audience capture and enthusiasm has to go the Honourable Bill Shorten, MP, Leader of the Opposition, who seemed very keen indeed.
The dinner was held in the Great Hall of Parliament House and we got a brief foreshadowing of the scrutiny we’d have to go through today, before entering. The Parliament Building itself is pretty impressive, but you’d certainly hope so!
This morning, the keen among us arrived before 7am to go through security and head up to a breakfast, where the guest speaker was Professor Aidan Byrne, CEO of the Australian Research Council, who had a great deal of interest to say (most of which I capture on the twitter feed – @nickfalkner) but who also reinforced the message that we have to be very careful in how we express our complex ideas to summarise them without trivialising them. Again. if you want ARC funds, communicate for ideas in a way that the audience can understand. Many of the issues of concern (increasing ECR funding, increasing overall funding, support for fundamental science) were asked about in question time but the biggest problem is finding the money, getting the rules approved by two other government departments (Finance and PM’s Office) and then getting it signed off by the Minister. That’s about a 5 month process for simple rule changes, which explains why the rules are often not that early in coming out. Also, this CEO has served under 6 Ministers in 2 years, which gives you some idea of the inherent stability of political office. When funding has been increased in the past, such as to the NHMRC, demand has outstripped the increased supply, leading to an overall reduction in success rate – although there must be an upper bound to this resourcing, I can only surmise. Professor Byrne noted that the ARC is a very, very lean organisation and that this meant that things like software system updates took longer than you’d expect. For example, that irritating question on Discover Projects (Do you have any other ARC grants) actually can’t be answered automatically because the existing systems won’t do it. This is being worked on but, without extra staff and funds, it will be years before it’s all bedded in.
If I’ve learnt nothing else on this trip, it’s that simple changes are more complex than they appear, and complex changes are Byzantine to the ‘fractured empire’ level, once you get policy makers involved. It is, I must confess, more fascinating than I thought it would be.
One of the most surreal moments after breakfast was stepping out of the lift and nearly walking into the Prime Minister of Australia, who was deep in conversation with a Minister. There is a lot of security in this building and we got scanned coming in but, still, there were no large men with no necks talking into their cuffs and saying things like “Parakeet has left the building.” We’re still in Australia. Hooray!
We’re currently sitting in a large briefing room, waiting for Senator Kim Carr to come and speak to us at 10:30. It’s a little cramped but there are regular coffee runs and there are a lot of fascinating people to talk to. (Although, having tried the coffee, I can now understand some of the policy directions coming out from here.)
Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 1 “How to talk like a policy maker” (#smp2014 #AdelED @ANUasiapacific)Posted: March 17, 2014
Professor Hugh White from the ANU gave this session as the first part of a two part session.
People in the policy world think differently from you. It’s not science. Science is about finding the truth and seeking knowledge. THe business of policy is the business of making decisions – the logic towards making a decision is different from the logic of truth. (Shout out to Aristotle and his syllogisms, especially the practical syllogism that leads towards actions.) Everything you say in a policy debate should assist the policy maker in making a decision. If they think that you are asking for their money to subsidise your knowledge development, they’re probably out.
There are only three parts to a decision: finding objectives, determining means and allocating resources. How can what you know be slotted into this system? Let’s break it down into five questions:
- What’s the problem?
- Why does it matter and how much?
- What are the options and how much do they cost?
- Which one is best?
- Can we afford it?
But it’s not actually linear, it’s a complicated loop. The process is dynamic because data, costs and objectives shift. Serious policy engagement is a long-term engagement. It’s not giving a brick to a wall, it’s playing tennis. There are also lots and lots of players. A good policy maker will be working through the policy logic – so try and get to them through the media if you can, rather than directly, because politicians still read papers. If your message can attract an editor, then you’re 98% of the way to putting your message together in a way that other participants will listen to it and hear it.
You don’t have to just talk like a policy maker, you have to think like one, which can be very challenging. How do we bring our principles to bear if we’re being forced to adopt a new mode of presentation? Here are some simple guidelines.
- Simplify without distortion. How simply can you say it? Put the most work into this.
- Be vivid without provocation. Don’t be rude or outrageous. Be vivd or striking, without being needlessly provocative.
- Recognise the difference between advocacy (support based on analysis) and polemic (an attack based on dogma).
Three last observations: when you throw your ideas to the policy debate, you lose them, they’re no longer yours. It’s not like publishing. You have to brave enough to not be afraid of criticism. Once the criticism starts, don’t respond to the critics, just their arguments.
The second part of the session (and final part of the day) was “Raising the standard of the climate ‘debate’: what ‘debate’?” presented by Professor Will Steffen. How can you become a successful communicator and academic? How do people from outside the policy world influence policy?
There hasn’t been a debate for several decades. We know the climate is being rapidly destabilised and the reason is increased greenhouse gases, this destabilisation is increasing risk across the board for our wellbeing. However you measure it, 95-100% of scientists in that field agree on this. The problem occurs when science enters the policy arena. This debate is also mostly an issue in the Anglo, English-speaking world, and is more dominant in the resource-rich and new lands (AUS, US, CAN) and much less in the UK. Professor Steffen thinks this is coming from a more divisive political system in these countries, especially when compared to consensus based approaches to solutions across the political system. Climate change is caught up in polemic in Australia at the moment.
Many people are coming to climate change from pre-existing belief systems (which is on the polemic side) whereas European (Scando) debates are far more on the analytic side. A mention was made of the lobby groups that are seeking to hold things up for powerful vested interest groups who have a strong interest in defeating any moves to combating climate change.
How do we move beyond this phoney debate?
There’s not a whole lot scientists can do about this. This isn’t in the science space anymore. There’s a false balance idea in the media that allows science to be pitted against anecdote. However, there are more fundamental points in the media, fairness, balance and professionalism, that dominate the anecdotal quotes so perhaps it’s time to remind the media of this. Let’s look at the world and ask why Australia has a problem – what do their Academies of science say? What do their other institutions say?
There’s an advantage to talking about change as a good thing, looking at what has happened to societies in the past that have failed to recognise threats to their development and wellbeing. Historically, many societies reach a high point and then collapse. It’s rare to see societies transform themselves. Those that do threaten and challenge their fundamental beliefs but this is hard to get into a policy development setting.
This is the second part of the talk and apparently we have to present 30-60 second summaries of what we’re going to talk about. I think this is something that we just do on our tables and then further so I can’t really summarise this either. Ok! See you next post!
Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 1 “Getting your science out of the lab” (#smp2014 #AdelED @rodl @willozap)Posted: March 17, 2014
Ok, the play is over and it was interesting but effectively uncaptureable in this format – you can see it in the Tweet stream. Sorry about that. The speakers for this session Dr Rod Lambert and Dr Will Grant, both of the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Here’s a chance to practice a 60 second pitch of your science – which will be held after the convenience break.
It’s been an intense morning so the banter, which would normally be quite engaging, appears to be losing some of the people in the audience from looking around. Hopefully they’ll settle in shortly.
A question from the floor – there’s some anxiety about the purpose of the meeting, how to approach it, how to build for it and how to build on it afterwards. Answer: all communication is personal. What are you trying to say? Say it to the person opposite you as if they are a person – because they are. Remember that the politician is happy to meet you – let’s start from there and build some common ground. Stick to your own persona and be yourself. You can tailor your personality but don’t go overboard. The meeting may not go to the details you want, but don’t overwhelm with caveats and detail. Listen to the other person, hear their values and motivations and, once again, tailor your message.
Question from the floor – scientists are trained to respond in a particular way where we are very rarely certain but we are actually quite certain enough for most intentions out in the community. How much do you present the uncertainty (without misrepresenting it). Politicians don’t act in certainty and have to make risk calculations before they take action. Talk enough but know when to stop.
You can’t offer a doom and gloom – you need to offer a solution and a way out, something that the politician can do. Be simple in discussions: “My research can do X, then possibly label it.” If you get a blank look, back off, shift down, go forward. You are aiming to communicate, not impress with your intellect. Remember you’re representing someone and you can fall back onto their agendas!
I realise many of my friends don’t necessarily agree with this but the common message is that you have to be good at the show, as well as good at the science, because without communications it doesn’t get communicated. It makes me a bit sad to agree with this because I know some wonderful people who aren’t as great in front of an audience – but this means you need a screaming front person who can help you with it to get the ‘right’ people listening.
And, yes, I’m for hire. (You’ll need to speak to my manager.)
Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 1 “The art of the perfect political meeting – experts tell their stories” (#smp2014 #AdelED @DrEmmaLJohnston)Posted: March 17, 2014
This is another panel, which may be hard to summarise, introduced by Professor Emma Johnston, STA (@DrEmmaLJohnston) and run by Mr Martin Laverty, CEO, Catholic Health Australia (chair), Mr Gary Dawson, Chief Executive, Australian Food and Grocery Council (@AusFoodGrocery), Mr Simon Banks, Managing Director, Hawker Britton Public Affairs Solutions and Mr Paul Chamberlin, Partner, Endeavour Consulting. (There’s a lot of suit power up on the podium.) Apparently one of the people up on the podium helped put together the power sharing deal that saw Ms Gillard become Prime Minister at the preceding election – please welcome Simon Banks. Gary Dawson dropped Science in Year 10 and ended up as Mr Howard’s Science adviser, so stick to those books, kids. No… wait.
I’d note that everyone on the podium has spent considerable time working for politicians and now they are all CEOs, MDs or partners in consulting firms. What a happy coincidence!
Oh, they’re putting on a playlet. It’s a pro- and anti-science hypothetical entitled “Australian Scientists Need More Money… (and with many other words)” You know what? You really have to be here. I don’t think I can capture this. Be back soon.
This is going to be somewhat odd as I’m blogging about someone telling me how to tweet and then this blog will get tweeted.
You might want to read that again. I think I’m bleeting.
Seriously, though, I’ve been looking forward to this as social media is not something I’m very good at. I’m certainly very verbose and my exploding stream of text is a familiar sign at the conferences I’m attending but I don’t think I’m very effective. Let’s throw over to Dr Inger Mewburn, Director of Research Training, The Australian National University (@thesiswhisperer) who has a lot more to say about it. (At 13,000 followers, she’s got good credentials, but it took over 40,000 tweets over 4 years to make this happen.)
In 30 minutes, Dr Mewburn is going to cover some Twitter basics (which I won’t share) and some tactics for growing your network (which I will.) (She thinks one of the reasons she’s grown on Twitter is that Twitter is an allied channel in conjunction with her blog and Facebook.)(I seem to like parenthetical comments.)
Twitter can feel like a firehose in the face but you can channel it to read it at your own pace. (I still find it like a firehose, but I really liked the analogy of FaceBook as a street of dinner parties and Twitter as a noisy pub full of people.)
Is Twitter a good way to drive up download and citation of your papers? Downloads appear to go up and citations do, too, (sadly, this is only two data points but it looks interesting). You’re giving stuff away, in effect, but like a DJ rather than Robin Hood.
If you want to focus your blog then pick one main topic and aim 70% of your tweets at that with two other topics that take up the rest. All of these topics should be something that you know about!
Thick and thin tweets (David SIlver): your tweet should send more value than just text.
Seven primary tactics for growing your network (I’m not showing up anywhere so I’m guessing I need to work on this):
- Tell us what’s happening, but use thick tweets – use handles, tags, URLs, link in other people.
- Meet people before you get there (introduce yourself before you show up!)
- Show us something cool (and tell us why). Share cool URLs in a thick way. (“Crafting your links as academic click bait” is the name of my new band. Forward announce and then back announce in the same tweet!
- Please – have an opinion!
- Tweets with pictures get more clicks but they have to be the right pictures. Videos show a boost in tweets about music but not in other topics.
- When someone talks to you, talk back.
- Social media management with a light touch. How do you fit this into your brief time? Use a desktop client (Tweetdeck and Tweetbot) and schedule them for peak hours, morning commute and 8pm, to hit the major periods of reading. Other applications include FlipBoard, Pocket, Zyte (sp?) and Buffer. (Nick note: I must be honest and note that a four application workflow is not what I would call a light touch.)
Lots of great information and really useful – time to start putting it into practice.
This session was led of by Dr Subho Banerjee, Deputy Secretary (Science, Research and Skills), Department of Industry, to take us through policy. He also looks after Science policy in the department. His move into public policy was drive by how science could contribute more to the public policy debate – and hence he is a fan of this current activity. Here comes the tour, but wait, here’s the ticket check. And it’s Wonka’s golden ticket!
Like Wonka, policy maker is a process of creation with a somewhat stretched analogy. Oh dear, he just referenced the fact that he wasn’t above a stretched analogy. Is he reading over my shoulder?
What is the policy factory? Most people look in from the outside and have no idea what goes on in the production process. Apparently, Canberra is like this, as well. I should have taken my anti-analogy pills this morning. Back to it, the policy factory takes a number of very rapidly listed elements (cabinet briefs, policy documents, ministerial decisions, etc) and turns it into a public policy, to deliver the agenda of the government of the day and improve Australian life.
What is policy? What is the idea at the heart of the policy? It needs to be explored, mulled over and tested – how it works and how it can be used to define a policy. It should be pushing forward government policy to benefit Australians. Policies are bespoke, we think about each one in a particular way to meet a particular need. But what are the elements that underly every policy process?
There are five basic principles in the simplified policy model:
- Anticipation of a problem and establishing what the question is. What are we asking? Unless you think about the question carefully, you’re not serious about addressing the problem.
- Formulation: Designing policy options.
- Consultation – test the policy options and its feasibility
- Adoption – implementing the policy. Getting it done.
- Evaluation of the policy – was it effective?
All of these is designed to make the policy consistent but it’s the ideas that are going through the policy machine. How does Science fit in? It helps us to implement all of the steps and provide a good framework for it but it’s not used to make policy directly, it’s part of a conflicting set of conflicting priorities: community views, political capital, financial issues…
Science through the policy cycle, an example, based on Early Childhood Learning.
- Anticipation: In the last 10-20 years, there’s been a shift in policy that is significantly driven by fundamental neurological and behavioural science. You can clearly see the imprint of fundamental science on the policy questions being answered.
- Formulation: An increased understanding of neuroscience has influenced the design of policy as to what helps to make little brains grow well.
- Consultation: There’s been a heap of first order consultation (what do we want to do) with the medical community, with service providers, and the second order consultation as to how this is going to be achieve.
- Adoption: Implementation with all of its benefits, costs and impacts.
- Evaluation: Studies as part of ongoing policy interventions.
Science interacts with different parts of this process in different ways – but it’s much messier in the real world. (Boy, does this guy really like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and who can blame him?) Policy streams intermingle and run around, an individual could be trying to innovate into several conflicting streams at the same time. We need to realise that it’s not going to be clean and neat – any interaction with a public servant is going to be engaging with someone who is handling and juggling a multi-faceted complicated thing, which is not neatly chronological or procedural. Policy aims to provide the best possible answer to the problem, using the best available tools at that time.
It’s helpful to understand the model and the stages but everyone is working across different parts at the same time. Knowing where your input can be useful and your engagement can be most useful is really important. Policies can take months or years to form but everyone is looking to get to an end point – which is to be implemented. Many high profile policy processes have times when they move very, very quickly indeed and you then have to be ready to move. (Especially, if it’s policy from the PM’s office.) You need to also answer the question that is asked if you’re providing scientific input – what can you say based on what you know, with reasonable caveats on the limits of your knowledge.
How can you get involved? Here are two projects.
Australian Government: Department of Industry project “APS200 Project: the Place of Science in Policy Development in the Public Service (2012)”
“Science for Policy: mapping Australian Government Investments and Institutions” (2013) from HC Coombs Policy Forum.
Interesting talk, if a little heavy on the Wonka.