Major Campaign report advances with an expert seminar on social science and government

30 September 2014

David Walker

The Campaign’s forthcoming report on the shape and size of social science in the UK during the next five years – due out in February – is taking shape.

The latest meeting of the working group in charge of drafting,  chaired by Professor James Wilsdon, was followed by an expert seminar on social science advice to government, focusing on Whitehall and Westminster. With the Scottish referendum in mind, it also encompassing the devolved administrations and local government.

The working group said it was keen to eliminate defensiveness and adopt a tone of pride in the intellectual robustness, quality and utility of social science, not least as partner for other disciplines. As one member put it, the benefits from investing in STEM would not accrue without parallel investment in understanding institutions and behaviour through social scientific inquiry.

Other emphases during the meeting included the need to monitor and provide remedies for disciplines with declining undergraduate numbers, and easing migration controls that disproportionately affect social science. Degree courses should be better promoted, along with data on the employability of social science graduates.

The report will make recommendations in the light of the Coalition Government’s strategy for science and innovation – the latest version of which is being published in December – and the wider policy options open to the next UK government. These recommendations will take in science and higher education funding, a national strategy for social science, the presentation of social science and the organisation of knowledge and advice for government. On the latter, discussion at the seminar noted:

  • The extent of social science inside government, which is done under a variety of labels including evaluation and analysis
  • The demand from politicians and civil servants for more syntheses and reviews of existing knowledge 
  • The cross-party appetite for social science that can assist a financially-straitened government to be more effective, and also help it with horizon scanning and future proofing of policy 
  • The need to understand the diversity of evidence available to politicians 
  • That social scientists should be more self-assertive as providers of clinical, medical, environmental and other kinds of scientific advice 
  • The need to improve civil servants’ methodological and statistical skills
  • The need for a chief social scientist or a senior social science advisory role in Whitehall complementing that of the Chief Science Advisor 
  • That there should be social science advisory committees in departments

The next seminar on social science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) will be on the 8 October. The working group will next meet on the 29October.

Details of the working group’s members 
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Seminar on social science and government collage

Seminar on social science and government collage