The Role of the Chief Science Advisor
My primary task is to give the Prime Minister strategic and operational advice on science and science policy issues. Although in some countries Chief Science Advisors also act as the chief executive of the science system, this is not the case with respect to my role. I want to emphasise that I will have no role in funding decisions and will not become a conduit to those who do make such decisions – my role is different and must be distinct.
I will operate in five primary domains.
The first is to advise on matters of science policy in areas where the Prime Minister specifically requests. It is certainly not my role to get into the operational aspects of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment or indeed the other Ministries that have science-related budgets (such as agriculture, environment and health). Rather, I will help to develop science and innovation policies that transcend individual agencies and ministries.
Secondly, I have a role of advising on specific matters related to science. In general this will be in the form of formally commissioned reports that will summarise the evidence base to suggest a specific mode of action or secondly where new scientific developments create either opportunity or risk. Again, I anticipate that my role will be limited to situations where my independence and hopefully high public respect can add value beyond what can come from departmental or sectoral advice.
The third domain is to promote the public understanding of, and engagement with, science, particularly with young people. I believe that the widening gulf between science and society is a critical issue. It is one that underlies many of the recent contentious debates we have had in this country, for example folate supplementation of bread. If science is to be at the heart of transforming New Zealand, then scientists have a duty to explain their work to the public and to encourage children to see science in their future. My own institute has made a large investment in encouraging school teachers and students to access and interact with the scientific research community (the LENScience initiative) and I see part of my role as encouraging similar initiatives across the country.
The fourth domain is in building international relationships. Science can be an important diplomatic tool, generating trust and confidence between nations and opening strategic opportunities for cooperation. My office will develop relationships with similar offices in other countries, particularly the UK, Australia, the USA and other small advanced economies like New Zealand, and there is much good-will towards us in this endeavour – New Zealand may be a small nation, but the quality of our science brings us respect beyond our size.
Fifth and finally, I will serve as a conduit of alerts that might arise where scientific progress shows either opportunity or threat for New Zealand. I will not be a lobby for individual science projects, but where scientists see something emerging that they think policy makers need to be aware of, I can assist with communication.
View the Terms Of Reference for the Chief Science Advisor (83 kb)