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The new Science Policy Exchange: developing brokers at the interface of science and public policy

A few months ago, I announced the launch of a new initiative through my office. Inspired by a model that I’d observed in Montreal Canada, the Science Policy Exchange is an initiative that brings together early career scientists and policy professionals who have a mutual interest in each other’s sectors and who want to help improve the possibilities for scientifically-informed public policy.

From the very outset, we knew this would be a ‘work in progress’ endeavour, with initial pilot groups based in Auckland and in Wellington. The intent of the initiative is as much professional development as it is diversification of the science advisory ecosystem by gathering insights and input from the innovative ‘growth layer’ of scientific and policy professions.  As such, we aimed for groups that were balanced by gender, expertise, and ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ sides of science advice.

The response to our call for applicants was beyond all expectations. The call drew over 150 applications from across the country, but centring on the host cities.  Selection committee members were: Dr Diane McCarthy, former Chief Executive of the Royal Society; Dr John Potter, Departmental Science Advisor for the Ministry of Health; Dr Victoria Metcalf, Science Communicator and National Coordinator for the Participatory Science Platform; and Mr Arapata Hakiwai, of the executive team at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.  I thank the selection committee for their generosity with time and guidance on this effort.

In the end, the selection process produced two cohorts having a 57:43 balance of women to men and bringing together roughly 30% ‘demand side’ (central, regional and local government bodies and NGO) and 70% ‘supply side’ (early career scientists from CRIs and Universities). The supply side is slightly skewed by the fact that Auckland has a smaller policy pool to draw from. The member scientists span the spectrum from computer science, engineering, ecology, nanotech, molecular biology, education, law, psychology, Māori studies, to policy studies.  The selection process aimed for top quality membership and diversity.

Our first meeting a few weeks ago was to introduce each other and to clarify the most significant issues and challenges that arise at the interface of science and public policy. As an introduction, I made this presentation from my own experiences and thinking. Over the next several months, we will be working together on a series of complex policy questions that will allow SPE members to both contribute and gain new insights. It has been an absolute pleasure to meet the SPE members at our first gathering and I look forward to working with them more closely.

I believe that the scientists and policy professionals of the SPE will teach one another (and the rest of us) a great deal about the reality of their respective worlds.

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