Making the Case for the Social Sciences
Launch Event London: 10 February 2010
The gauntlet was thrown down to the social science community yesterday in a packed out discussion in London. Increased collaboration with the hard sciences; using promotion and lay summaries; and playing an active role in educating the policy community were just some of the edicts presented by panellists including David Willetts MP and Tony Wright MP. They were presenting to a 200-strong group of social scientists; policy makers and government at the launch of the Academy of Social Sciences report, ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences.’
To view a video of the presentations and discussion click on the link and visit: http://vimeo.com/9377129
With higher education funding under fire, speakers noted the critical timing for social scientists in getting the value of their work noticed. Commenting on the wealth of knowledge that the social sciences bring, Adrian Alsop, Director for Research at the Economic and Social Research Council noted that it is not fully appreciated how good the United Kingdom’s research base is on a global scale. Yet despite the contributions made, panellists agreed that there is much work to be done to demonstrate impact and value. The audience heard from two Academicians, Professor Ruth Lister and Professor Ann Buchanan (above l-r) about their vital work on parenting and poverty which has successfully fed into government policy.
David Willets MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said his basic message to the group was “if we don’t study our own society, then who will?” He put forward the view that the social sciences must be studied rigorously alongside hard sciences, and that in many ways they complement each other. For example he noted on the nuclear power debate that it is not just the physics that is important but also people’s perceptions.
Dr Willetts also stressed the need for evidence-based research in influencing policy decisions. He commented on the value of a rounded picture of research outcomes: while it was easy to support evidence-based policy when the results are positive, the decisions were harder when the evidence was negative. Yet negative results contribute just as much as positive ones and are just as important. He added, however, that it was unrealistic to hope for a purely evidence-based approach, as politicians could not wait for a critical mass of research to be reached.
Other speakers noted the difficulty in getting messages across to policy makers and government. Tony Wright MP noted that many social scientists are not into the business of writing for the 'real world'. He encouraged the audience to think about who they are writing for, and how they write. He considered that the government required a social science equivalent to the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST). Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope told the audience that this was a seminal moment in the country's development with an urgent need to find new ways of doing things for less money and he urged the social science community to seize the opportunity to make more impact and get its messages into the political process. Sunder Katwala, General Secretary, The Fabian Society added that social scientists need to champion the good use of their research, thinking about the communications environment now, which is much broader than just traditional media.
While there is more work to be done in bridging the communications gap between policy makers and social researchers, panellists and audience participants concurred a way to measure impact and value is crucial. Professor Cary Cooper, Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences noted that the social sciences are very much in the public eye, with front page headlines this week covering social science problems including childcare and parenting, ageing; and childhood obesity.
Making the Case for the Social Sciences, the report the Academy has produced, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), sets out some of the ways social scientists have made a contribution to these areas, and is just one strategy the Academy is using to champion the value of the social sciences at this crucial time.