Tag Archives: Interdisciplinarity

What sciences count in government science advice?

One theme of the Science and Policymaking conference (#EUINGSA16) is interdisciplinarity. Most people are calling for joint work to help inform major policy problems, with some criticising a tendency to forget the social sciences and, in particular, humanities.

The same can be said for the study of science advice to government. Most scientific contributions to the discussion are from people with a ‘hard science’ background describing their personal experiences without much discussion of the evidence on science advice in policy settings provided by the ‘softer’ disciplines. This is where many of those forgotten disciplines come in, to answer 4 key questions:

  1. What makes people like policymakers tick?

The obvious discipline is psychology, to understand the links between ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ policymaking. The other is education, to help explain how adults learn (which is, I think, what scientists expect of politicians).

  1. What messages work?

In this case, we have established disciplines, such as the study of communication, and the ‘science of stories’ in political science, as well as multi-disciplinary approaches to ‘science diplomacy’.

  1. How can we make the process work for us?

We can use psychological insights to identify how to influence policymakers: exploiting ‘fluency’ (people pay attention to things with which they are already familiar) and manipulating people’s cognitive biases to get what we want.

  1. Should we make the process work for us?

We can draw on philosophy to help us decide how far we should go to get what we want. We can also draw on anthropology to help us work out why we are so uncomfortable when talking about crossing the line from impartial adviser to policy actor.

By lucky chance, there is a special issue of articles drawing on these insights (and more) to identify how to ‘maximise the use of evidence in policy’.

See also: The Politics of Evidence-Based Policymaking

The Politics of Evidence Based Policymaking:3 messages




Filed under Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), public policy

Academic Branding

The word ‘branding’ applied to academics is so pretentious that I feel dirty just typing it, but it’s a good way into thinking about how you are seen as an academic based on the decisions you make. I think that a lot of assume that we should brand ourselves according to our specialism: there’s Professor X, who knows the most about mutation, or there’s Professor Green who knows the most about mangling songs. However, there are now strongish incentives (in some disciplines – mostly social science?) to maintain some sort of generalist knowledge to further comparative, interdisciplinary and/ or ‘impact’ work. In each case, your audience may not necessarily benefit from your fiddly knowledge of a subject but, instead, appreciate how it fits into a wider picture. Let me give you some rationalised and glossed-over examples of my career to make the point:

  1. Comparative work. I’ve been paid to go to Japan 4 times (3 since 2011, 2 this year) on the back of my work on Scottish devolution. The most useful stuff here, even for academic colleagues, is the Scottish Politics textbook I did with Neil McGarvey. My most recent trip was to give talks to a public and practitioner audience where, again, few are interested in the Scottish navel.
  2. Interdisciplinary work. I’ve been working on collaborations with colleagues in subjects such as physics and psychology, The most useful stuff here is a public policy textbook I did in 2011.
  3. Specialist work. I’ve been making some good links with US colleagues, including Chris Weible (editor of Policy Studies Journal), who asked me to co-author the ‘Schlager chapter’ in the 3rd ed. of Theories of the Policy Process (you may have to trust me on how good that is). Again, this came out of work I did bringing together a discussion of theories after doing a textbook.

So, I’m convinced, based on some anecdotal evidence (which I’ve manipulated to suit my argument) that this more general textbook (and bloggy) work has been crucial to my career development – perhaps since it has helped me write in a more accessible/ less jargony way. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed me to maintain a broad knowledge in particular fields, including policy theory and one particular area (Scotland/ UK). It is no substitute for the REF-type work we all have to do but, then again, it may not hurt either (my big book is underpinned by the policy theory work I analysed while writing a textbook).


Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing