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CAPEcast episode 7 transcript: 100 million hours

Sarah Chaytor 00:05
Hello and welcome to CAPEcast the podcast from CAPE, the Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement project. CAPE is a partnership between UCL and the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Northumbria and Nottingham. We’re funded by Research England, and we’re exploring ways of strengthening the engagement between the research community and public policy. I’m Sarah Chaytor Director of Strategy and Policy for UCL research, innovation and global engagement and one of the CAPE leads. It’s really great to be joined today by Professor Ruth Morgan, who is professor of crime and forensic science at UCL. Ruth is also part of the World Economic Forum’s young scientists community, and she’s recently spearheaded a call on behalf of that community for 1 million scientists to engage for 100 million hours a year with global leaders in order to better inform policymaking. So that’s right up CAPE’s street. And she’s joining us today to explore that idea. So Ruth thanks so much for joining us. I’m really excited to explore more about this. Could you just first of all, tell us more about the 1 million hours call and why it matters?

Ruth Morgan 01:03
Sure. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It’s lovely to talk to you. I think 1 million scientists 100 million hours; we’re seeing more and more that we need really great, excellent groundbreaking science to inform and to enable us to make the breakthroughs that we need as we face the big challenges, whether it’s pandemics, whether it’s the climate, whether it’s justice, poverty, education. But for science to make a real difference into those scenarios, the great pioneering science is sort of step one. And what you actually need is not only that great science, but that science to be designed in a way that it will be able to produce outputs that are meaningful and helpful. But also, once we’ve got that, we need to get that science into the hands of people who can actually make those decisions, and change the world for the better. And I think getting the science that is helpful and meaningful to the places where it can make a difference is, as you’ll appreciate, there’s no quick fix to that there’s no simple straightforward linear process that we can just follow and get things where they need to get to. And that’s because it’s very relational. It happens as part of a conversation, it happens as part of dialogue that takes place within networks. And the relationships between people within those networks are built up over time, they build up trust, they take months, years, to really build and become the fruitful and sustainable networks that can achieve what we’re trying to achieve. And then you layer on top of that the fact that often researchers aren’t really recognised or incentivized to devote the time that’s needed to do that. So that can mean it’s very difficult to create those kinds of networks with the trust that’s infused within it, and for there to even be space for those conversations, let alone the time. So, that was where we were coming from within the World Economic Forum of young scientists, that there was this real recognition that we need a generation of scientists coming through, who are able to build those bridges from science into policy. But we’re facing a lot of challenges for that to happen. And so this call was really around if we could enable a million scientists, which is, you know, it’s about 10% of the world’s active science population in public service, to dedicate two hours a week, which work its way up to 100 million hours overall, that could create quite a momentum, and quite a force for actually enabling those kinds of networks to grow and build for science to really get to the places it needs to get to where it diffuses and infuses into some of those decision making processes. So I guess yeah, in a nutshell, if we can create opportunities for scientists and policymakers to be in this ongoing open dialogue and conversation, we’ll be much better equipped to tackle the challenges that are going to be coming at us now and in the future. But there’s quite a lot of hurdles that we need to overcome for that to happen.

Sarah Chaytor 03:42
So tell us more about what those hurdles are – what’s stopping scientists spending those two hours a week now? And what are you hoping that this call will achieve?

Ruth Morgan 03:50
Sure. So I think what we’re really hoping for with this call is to grab attention, and so 1 million scientists, 100 million hours. It’s something that you can get your arms around, but it also raises a lot of questions. And I think what we’re really hoping to do is be able to contribute to a conversation about this, and create more opportunities to think about this and work out what might be the best next steps for achieving this. And it’s a really nuanced conversation, obviously, it’s going to be… the way it potentially comes out is going to be different for different fields, different disciplines, but also people at different career stages, those that are based in geographically different places, different types of research institution or science institutions. So it’s a very nuanced conversation, as these often are, aren’t they, but certainly one where there’s not gonna be one size that fits all, which is why having this kind of conversation with as many voices as possible, as part of that conversation, will hopefully get us a bit closer to potentially where we can actually see this as more of a reality. So yes, how can we as individuals as institutions, create opportunities for those networks to be grown to develop to exist, how can we ensure that we’ve got scientists and policymakers who’ve got the right common language to be able to communicate effectively? How can we support and sustain those things that can happen over the months, years that it takes for those relationships to build? And how can we also be part of a broader conversation, I guess, about how we can have a diverse scientific community, because we’re certainly not suggesting that everybody needs to do this. I think we’re very keen on promoting this idea that the scientific community is at its strongest when we have diversity within it, we need people within the community who are fantastic at getting research funding, who are brilliant at teaching who are fantastic at engaging people, who are brilliant at managing, we need all of that for the community to thrive. But this does seem a very particular area that there could be a lot of mileage from creating more space. So thinking about how in different settings, we could enable scientists to to either gain the skills or grow the skills or maintain those networks.

Sarah Chaytor 06:00
I think that’s a really important point about the nuance and the diversity needed in the science population. And I certainly agree that this is it’s one of the areas we’ve perhaps overlooked historically, still overlook, and don’t necessarily value as part of the role of the scientist. I mean, it struck me as you were saying that that Mark Walport when he was the government Chief Scientific Adviser used to talk about evidence being one part of the policy decision making process. You know, it’s one factor amongst lots and lots of other factors that decision makers were grappling with. And you could almost look at this the other way, that this should be seen as one, but one important part of the scientific process. For those who want to engage and want to think about how to build their connections with public policy, which feels like a nice symmetry – they’re similar. I also wondered… your points about diversity struck me in another way. Because I absolutely agree with what you’re saying about the importance of building relationships and trust and the fact that that often takes place over years. I think there’s a danger with the current situation we have, where the ability to do that is often down, I suppose to individual discretion and or individual power and privilege, that actually we end up with a situation where not all voices are heard among scientists engaging with policymakers. And I wonder if, if you agree, I suppose that if there was more of a systemic approach to this, so if it was just expected that those scientists and researchers who wish to were spending two hours a week on this, that perhaps opens up some of those dialogues a bit more and moves away from it being something that is only done by those in a position able to do so?

Ruth Morgan 07:34
I think, yeah, one of the really key things here is that it can come across as saying, we need people to give more, we need people to spend more time on top of everything else that they’re already doing. And I think that’s certainly something that needs to be addressed if we are serious about ensuring that we have the broadest range of voices that is possible. And I think your point about career stage is a really important one, it is often those that have more seniority, who are able to make that time and to dedicate space and resources to building those networks and having those conversations and being involved in those areas. Whereas there are huge, huge pressures on those early career stages to make sure that they’re publishing, fulfilling their teaching and keeping afloat and hitting the targets that they need to maintain their career. So I think creating opportunities that are grassroots up is going to be really important on this one. And I think also having a broader systems level view of what impact is, I think, could also be quite critical to this conversation, because often engaging with policy is not a linear, straightforward input to output kind of thing. Often, decisions are made on a particular policy down the line that have come about through an amalgamation of various different interactions and different insights from various different places. And people, it’s very difficult to track that directly. So recognising that more broadly and having a greater capacity to acknowledge where effort has been put in and where networks are built, that might not have a nice, neat impact case study that comes out of them would, I think, probably really help with this enabling of, of scientists to put resources essentially whether those are time or funding into being able to do those things. So yeah, I think it’s a very broad challenge. And it’s, we need to be thinking across career stage, we obviously there’s also different disciplines, different sectors, there’s a huge amount of opportunity here if we’re willing to be a bit creative.

Sarah Chaytor 09:40
That point about how we recognise impact, I think is really critical in that we still, I think, tend to… there’s a tendency to look for the silver bullet moment or the magic moment when the impact happened suddenly. And actually, as you’re saying it’s much more complex than that. I think it’s really hard to pick apart even what the difference is between engagement and impact, we still, despite an increasing appreciation, I think of the importance of team science, we still tend to approach impact from the perspective of what was the one individual contribution that was made to achieve a particular thing. And often with policy in particular, it’s actually tends to be a whole bunch of different individual contributions all coming together and overlapping and getting mixed up in each other. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near really, I think we just about understand that that’s the case. And we don’t know how yet to to approach it and deal with it.

Ruth Morgan 10:32
There’s one area that I think is quite a perfect example of this, which is the sort of environment agenda and how that’s become a quite mainstream topic. Lots of people very willing now to engage with that. And you do wonder, would we ever have got to that point, if there hadn’t been TV and films made about Blue Planet and creating that narrative? And there would have been so many scientists involved in the creation of those programmes. But if you think about the timeframe on… I mean, David Attenborough was a great sort of advocate, isn’t he, but he’s had a whole career, and has been plugging away and and speaking to these issues, and yet, it’s only comparatively recently that it’s become a mainstream topic, and one that can win you votes… culture as well as a huge one, I think here.

Sarah Chaytor 11:18
Yeah, absolutely. And tell us then, thinking about culture, thinking about culture within within science, your call sets out the idea of having a new dashboard that can assess scientific excellence in I suppose a more multifaceted way? Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Ruth Morgan 11:31
Yeah. So I think this comes down to a few things. I think one of them has been the, the way that I’ve observed at UCL, we have a career progression framework, rather than a more narrow set of metrics that are used when you’re assessing helping people with their career progression is a portfolio approach. And it’s from what I have seen, it really aims and in lots of ways succeeds at capturing a much broader picture of somebody. And it can capture the excellence in research and teaching, but it can also provide outlets for showcasing the work that’s been done in engagement or in citizenship within your institution. And I think so that creates a very little the opportunity for a much more holistic evaluation of somebody’s contribution and where they’re going. And I think it also creates opportunities for being able to capture some of those more tacit parts of somebody’s contribution, that are difficult to really pinpoint very specifically, but taken as a whole, they all come together in in terms of what’s been achieved. This, this idea of a dashboard is really drawing on that experience, really to be able to suggest that there is real value in considering a broad range of areas, as you’re evaluating a scientist contribution and their level of excellence. And it’s also a way that I think, creates a lot more flexibility. So I talked a bit earlier about there not being a one size fits all, and a framework or a portfolio approach, the dashboard approach, I think, creates opportunities for people to really excel where they’ve got gifting, and to make clear where their contributions lie. And different people can tailor things depending on what their skills and yeah, where their efforts have gone, again, creates more opportunities, I think, in terms of enabling a more diverse range of types of scientists to make progression, it means that we’ve got a much less linear pathway, which can have challenges, it can suffer from less transparency in some respects. But I think it brings lots of lots of value in other areas. And obviously, that’s a decision that has to be made. And again, needs to be part of the conversation. But I think it also does mean that it’s possible to really build a career in a broader range of ways than simply perhaps what is the established norm, and potentially that has real power, given that we are living in a very dynamic world, things are evolving and changing a lot. And potentially, the way of being able to be an excellent scientist in a particular field in the 80s is going to be different to what it was in the naughties and almost certainly will be different, or it’s going to be in 15 years time. So having this sort of more holistic take on on somebody’s contribution, I think, offers an awful lot of upsides

Sarah Chaytor 14:16
And thinking specifically about the UK research system, it feels like there’s a particular urgency on top of what I think of as the normal urgency, which is just bringing all sorts of really complicated societal challenges to grapple with. And research is really key to helping to inform those. But there is also the very practical fact, which is the government is rapidly increasing public funding for research at the moment, as you know, and it’s going to reach what 24 billion in the next three years, that’s probably going to mean an awful lot of new and additional scientists coming up through the system as well. So there’s a sort of an opportunity now that we may not have again for another generation, to really use some of that increase in funding and that presumed increase in the researcher population to think about how we upskill and develop researchers in the ways that you’re suggesting with that much broader definition and that much, much broader valuing of what they do.

Ruth Morgan 15:11
And more people means that you can actually accommodate more diversity… which is a really exciting thing.

Sarah Chaytor 15:17
Exactly that. So I suppose I was going to ask, I mean, you mentioned the UCL careers framework, which is a portfolio approach and I know some other institutions have adopted similar approaches as well. Are there other things that you think either individual universities or research funders should be doing to think about skills and development, think about other incentives that need to be in the system?

Unknown Speaker 15:38
I don’t know how popular they all would be [laughter]. But one of the things I’ve observed and one of the things that I think could be really transformational is if there was willingness of funders to be funding, more open ended, and less defined pieces of work… So at the moment, there’s a huge amount of opportunities for being able to present a very important key question or idea, propose the methods that would be utilised to be able to generate very, very valuable insights, developments. But often, that does require quite a lot of work to have been done already to be able to demonstrate that you’re what is being proposed will work and will produce the intended outcomes and the deliverables. And that’s a very good way of generating really valuable science.

Ruth Morgan 16:29
But what it doesn’t do is it doesn’t create this openness and space to explore and to try out things, and to potentially have failure. And I think there’s definitely an argument to be made for advocating for a proportion of a funding to be dedicated to potentially what might be termed more risky approaches. Because it’s only when you’ve got the space to be creative and to think about things in different ways, to engage with people who think differently to you, or have a different background to you, to build diverse teams that have either different skill sets, or different disciplinary backgrounds, or different experiences within different sectors within society, that you can actually start making some quite interesting inroads.

Sarah Chaytor 17:16
Oh, I think that’s such an interesting idea. I’m just going to reflect as I feel honorbound to do so that one of the wonderful things that research England has done for CAPE is actually, although we are time limited, they allowed us to pitch a project to them, which was very undefined in terms of what we’re actually going to be doing. We set out a very broad framework and then said, and we’re going to see where the policy demand takes us, and we’re going to respond to that we’re going to be deliberately as agile and responsive as possible. And that meant they basically agreed to give us quite a lot of money without knowing exactly what we’re planning to do with it, which is interesting.

Ruth Morgan 17:16
But these things take time, they don’t fit very well into the one year three year project design, they’re things that if you sort of got going in Year Zero, for a year, five year 10, you really could be seeing something quite, quite incredible happening. But we don’t usually have opportunities to have that kind of time and commitment from people over that sort of length of time. So yeah, I think so some opportunities for unrestricted and less defined projects within a portfolio that covers the full range, and obviously doesn’t neglect the mission driven work. But I think that could potentially create opportunities to not only increase the diversity of the science community, but also take us in places that we might not necessarily get to if we had to think about them in advance, that could potentially transform things. And I think it would be important to be incorporating the arts and humanities into those pieces of work, it would be important to be bringing those who are not within the academy into those pieces of work, and really seeking to explore and see what might be able to be possible. I think that’s brave. And it’s also strategic.

Sarah Chaytor 19:01
I agree. And we’ve seen it with the Wellcome Trust, I was reflecting as well with their new eight year grant… you also when you mentioned it, when you’ve introduced it, you said you weren’t sure how popular this was. And then we both laughed. And I was just thinking that this is such a good idea what why why did we both laugh? And why are we both assuming it wouldn’t be popular? What are the problems with it?

Ruth Morgan 19:21
I think it doesn’t fit in a neat package. You can’t chart progress in an nice, economic rational way. It might be one of those projects that at the end of the five year eight year period, you couldn’t have your flagship impact case studies. It might be that there’s a very important piece of policy work that happens in 15 years time that, in undiscernible ways, has its roots in the work that happened in that project, but you’d never be able to track it through. So in terms of being able to demonstrate value for money, I think it’s challenging.

Sarah Chaytor 19:54
I think that’s really interesting because it makes me wonder if we have a sort of a funding system, certainly in the UK that is, has almost become a bit transactional, you know, we’ll give you money and we will buy the following outputs and outcomes. And that we do that because we think it’s a way of demonstrating public value. But, you know, it almost makes you wonder if we need to rethink, you know, how we deliver public value, and also how we ensure public consent for I suppose, for investment in research, it almost feels like we need a different conversation that is less, you know, in return for X research funding, you get ABC outcomes, and is much more about that open ended exploration and that confidence, I suppose, to be less transactional.

Ruth Morgan 19:54
So a rethinking of the social contract of science, maybe.

Sarah Chaytor 19:59
Yes… much more eloquently put! [laughter]

Ruth Morgan 20:11
But I think that speaks quite powerfully into the situation where actually, the vast, vast majority of scientists are very aware of what they’re doing… Often their motivation is because they see challenges or problems or issues in the world that their science can be part of the solution to… so you’ve got an incredibly motivated community. And yet, what is financially valuable, is not always societally valuable. If we can build a future where both of those things can have value, you do wonder quite what we might be able to achieve.

Sarah Chaytor 21:18
You do… Final question, then perhaps bringing us a bit back to earth, which is we’ve talked a lot about… I suppose, the research community. What about the public policy community? How can they engage in your particular call, but also what what more do you think broadly, they could be doing to think about how to access scientific evidence and expertise and embedd it in policymaking?

Ruth Morgan 21:40
Oh, yeah. So one of the things I’ve been reflecting on was that a lot of my colleagues were quite surprised when I was talking about the opportunities that exist for not only those in the sort of the research community, to have opportunities to go into the policy space, through fellowships or exchange programmes, but there’s also opportunities for it to come back the other way for policy, those in policy to come into a research environment for a spell and to live and breathe and see it from the other side. So I think that’s something that’s really quite important, opportunities for that to happen more. And that’s certainly something internationally that there seems to be a gap where that could happen a whole lot more than it currently does. I think there are other aspects as well, that poten… I mean, these are small, small things. But when when there are calls for evidence for particular inquiries, or topics that are put out for consultation, creating broad enough topics, so that there is more opportunity to contribute, even if you’re not narrowly within the predefined parts of the focus of the inquiry, perhaps, would increase opportunities, I think, for researchers to be able to engage, I’ve seen a reasonable number of calls where I think the topic is a super interesting one. And it’s got lots and lots of different facets, but then the call for evidence is so very focused in very particular ways that have clearly come out of a lot of deliberations and discussions. And that’s the focus of the inquiry. But I think it can mean that call for evidence misses other areas and topics that potentially could be quite helpful for incorporating a broader picture maybe, for that particular topic. So I think, broader calls for evidence might might be one way of making it easier for scientists to engage.

Sarah Chaytor 23:31
I think that’s really interesting, because that’s, that’s almost one example of something we’ve been exploring through cape, which is how to encourage more genuine co-production for either, so not just sort of, again, transactional knowledge exchange, but actually ongoing dialogues and exploring an issue together. And if you have that it enables, I suppose a bit more of that upstream engagement that can broaden out the conversation and guard against that very narrow focus.

Ruth Morgan 23:57
And I think there’s probably… also part of this, which could be read a million policymakers to have two hours a week, so they’ve got 100 million hours to engage with scientists. For sure, I think that that could be pretty transformational, as well… certainly if there’s anyone out there listening, that could be part of their something to consider, that could potentially really build on the momentum and speak quite powerfully to this synergy that is needed and the relational aspects to this. I noticed that a number of times now I’ve become more and more convinced that having programmes and special issues and journals or one off roundtable events, they all have value, they can all achieve a lot of different things. But what’s missing is is these more informal, ongoing open dialogues. I think it’s sort of the renaissance workshop kind of idea that you have a broad range of people who come together with an open ended agenda that the endpoint hasn’t been pre decided, you don’t need to know what the outcomes are before you start. There’s this sort of potential for more responsive meandering through a topic. But you’ve also got the cooperation of everybody in that conversation, who’s there to contribute and collaborate rather than to necessarily just get what they need for their particular project that’s running in a minute and move on to the next thing. And I think it’s quite sanitary sometimes to think about where there have been massive breakthroughs that have really changed the world. They’re often a result of very long standing collaborations, and often between quite different people. So I think there’s something something there that could be very powerful if we were able to really create that momentum in the science world that could have spillover into the policy world and then together to have those moonshots.

Sarah Chaytor 25:47
Brilliant, 200 million hours and a new renaissance. [laughter]

Ruth Morgan 25:52
You can only ask, they can always say no. [laughter]

Sarah Chaytor 25:55
Ruth, this has been such an interesting conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us… really, really fascinating to explore it with you. That’s all from us for this time. But thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for listening. Bye bye

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