Imperial Policy Forum welcomed Dr Mike Short CBE to Imperial for the first in a new series of events with government Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs).
Speaking in front of staff and students, Dr Short discussed with Professor Mary Ryan CBE, Vice Provost, Research & Enterprise, the benefits of scientific and industry experience in policymaking, and how the role of the CSA is crucial in providing impartial advice to government.
Chief Scientific Advisers in Government
Dr Short described how his career in the telecommunications industry had given him a valuable perspective advising DIT. The Department’s remit is set out in its " Outcome Delivery Plan ", including export support, attracting investment and negotiating free trade deals. The cross-government network of CSAs , and the Government Office for Science provides support across government departments and an avenue for policy and decision makers to draw on expert evidence and advice.
He said that Imperial College was in a strong position to lead in this area, saying: "the good thing about Imperial is the great mix of science, engineering and international talent" and referenced how networks and contacts developed through his career have helped him to tackle important issues throughout his career.
The role of disruptive technologies
Dr Short said the lessons he took from working in the industry during the mass uptake of mobile phones in the 1990s was that you need to move quickly to understand and adopt new technologies or risk falling behind. In response to a question from the audience, he highlighted the benefits that AI, Quantum and digital solutions could bring in the UK and globally. The next generation will learn, receive healthcare, work and shop online and there are huge opportunities for UK businesses to take the lead in these areas.
The role of regulation would also be crucial in the pull-through and adoption of future technologies. Dr Short used the example of how differing approaches to telecoms regulation in USA and Europe impacted the choice that consumers see, and the level of investment and innovation in the market. This tension between regulation for consumer choice and regulation to incentivise investment would inevitably be felt as new markets mature.
Science in Decision-Making
Professor Ryan asked about the role of evidence in decision making within government and how researchers can contribute to it. Dr Short’s advice for researchers was to identify the department and policy area which academics could contribute to and engage through the CSA’s office or policy officials. Getting the right evidence in front of decision-makers at the right time was important, so establishing good relationships and reputation for expertise in a particular area is essential.
The next event in this series organised by the Imperial Policy Forum welcomes Professor Dame Angela McLean, CSA for the Ministry of Defence to Imperial College on 31 January 2023. You can sign up for the event here.