On Tuesday 10 September I attended the launch event for the new Social Science Section of the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST), an event titled ‘Social Science in Parliament: Improving the Evidence Base for Policy’ which was held at Portcullis House.
The social science section is being established in partnership with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and with the support of University College London. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) published a blog post the day before the event in which they provide reflections from some of the key speakers on the making of the Social Science Section and how it will seek to improve the impact of social science in policy-making. Follow this link.
I will briefly share some of my observations of the event. The seminar began with a welcome from Adam Afriyie MP (Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology), an MP I hadn’t come across before but who seemed incredibly enthusiastic and committed to providing all parliamentarians with more access to social science research evidence.
Short presentations were then given by Dr David Halpern (National Adviser of the What Works Centres and Director of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team); Professor Teresa Rees AcSS (Board Member of the Campaign for Social Science and former Pro Vice Chancellor (Research), Cardiff University; Ms Jane Tinkler (Manager of the Public Policy Group and Research Fellow at the Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Paul Boyle (Chief Executive, ESRC). Professor Rees provided a very convincing argument for the importance of equalities in underpinning everything done by both researchers and parliamentarians. Jane Tinkler provided some interesting insights into the work her team have been doing on the impact of social sciences (see this blog), the key findings from which will be published as a book in 2014. Among the many figures Jane presented the fact that 12% of total grants and contracts to universities come from Social Science stood out as being both heartening but also a percentage we should be seeking to increase. Professor Boyle from the ESRC was very keen to focus our minds on developing new routes to the co-production of knowledge, in particular he urged us to think about links with the private sector and how these can be facilitated.
Reflections on the presentations were then presented by Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBS FBA. She highlighted that many parliamentarians do not appreciate or value qualitative research, they are however quick to give much more weight to anecdote. Baroness Lister argued that changing this mistaken belief is crucial because in order to create cultural change we need the in depth insights only qualitative research can provide. There was then a useful Q&A session, which took a while to warm up, yes even with all the high-flyers in the room the questions were slow to get started! The session was then concluded with comments from Kelvin Hopkins MP (Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Science and Policy) and Dr Chris Tyler (Director of POST).
I talked to Dr Abbi Hobbs, Social Sciences Advisor for POST after the event and she was very keen to hear more about what we’re doing in Middlesex. As a result she will be coming to the department in November (date TBC) to give a presentation about POST and hear more about our work.
You can find out more about POST at: www.parliament.uk/post
You can follow POST on Twitter: @POST_UK