Engaging with Decision-Makers in Parliament and Government

A busy couple of days for the BES Policy Team; first the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Biodiversity Group (APPBG) yesterday and then today, the British Society of Soil Science’s Annual Conference and launch of a new framework for professionalism in the discipline. How scientists can engage with decision-makers, whether through parliament or directly with Government, was a common theme.

The All Party Parliamentary Biodiversity Group met in the Macmillan Room in Portcullis House, Westminster. Security was tight due to the appearance of News of the World executives at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the building, with a large queue outside. Despite this, the Macmillan room was busy, with representatives from IEEM, the BTO, Bat Conservation Trust, Wildlife and Countryside Link, and others, assembling to network with one another and to hear speeches from Barry Gardiner MP, Chair of the Group, and Martin Brasher, Defra. Unfortunately no Defra Minister could join the event: Richard Benyon was called away to Brussels to deal with negotiations around fisheries; Lord Henley was whipped to appear in the Lords and the Secretary of State was simultaneously delivering a statement to the House regarding badgers and bovine TB.

Mr Gardiner outlined the role of the APPBG: to highlight to parliament policies in support of the environment, working as a group to identify those which should be brought in front of Government and to highlight the economic cost of not conserving natural capital. Martin Brasher then highlighted the policy drivers behind the recent Government Natural Environment White Paper for England, including the Aichi Targets agreed at the COP-10 meeting in Nagoya in October last year. The EU Biodiversity Strategy has recently been published as a European response to these targets, and the England Biodiversity Strategy is currently in preparation: when pressed by the BES for a date for the launch of this, Mr Brasher said that this would be published ‘soon’.

If successful, the APPBG could provide a useful and influential means for the conservation science community to interact with decision-making within parliament. Certainly the launch attracted a number of MPs, despite the competing priority of the inquiry into phone-hacking taking place next door. A number of events are planned throughout the coming year, which the BES will remain engaged with.

The theme of scientists engaging effectively with decision-making was picked up today at the British Society of Soil Science’s annual meeting, which saw the launch this afternoon of ‘Working with Soils‘, a framework for professional standards within the discipline. Dr Miles Parker, Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra, spoke at the launch and emphasised the amount of time and money which the Department spends on linking to external scientific advice; whether through supporting research directly or by financing and supporting Scientific Advisory Committees. Dr Parker said that to deliver advice effectively, scientists must understand not only their own specialist field but also the context in which the advice is being given – understanding who else might be delivering advice and from what perspective. Scientists need to be able to speak to other experts and be able to speak to policy-makers. Skills in networking, communication and in listening to others were all important, Dr Parker said.

The importance placed by Dr Parker on scientists developing policy-relevant skills is welcome to the BES, which runs a number of schemes aimed at building capacity within our membership in this respect. Our annual Shadowing Scheme and Policy Training Workshop, aimed at early-career researchers, and POST Fellowship, for second and third year PhD students provide experience of engaging with the science-policy interface. All will open for applications once again early in 2012.