Gaining credibility a ‘chicken and egg thing’

November 10, 2010

The ASADI conference rounded up today with a brief roundtable session to discuss lessons learned and the way forward.

Final panel discussion. Rob Adams is third from the right.

Boaventura Cuamba of the Academy of Science of Mozambique said the conference had revealed to him the difficulty for individual academics to find resources to do research on expanding electricity access but noted that if African researchers collaborated regionally, they would have access to more resources.

Cuamba’s feelings were echoed by Gibson Mandishora, a member of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences. He said that academies must foster close intra-Africa collaborations on energy issues.

Everyone agreed that academies could and should have a key role providing governments with scientific advice.

But Rob Adam, chief executive of the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation, advised the academies present to work on their credibility.

“You must gain good credibility to be able to give advice. The face that you have as an academic does not mean a minister or a policymaker will be prepared to listen to you,” he said.

But academies would gain credibility only by proving their ability to provide quality advice, resulting in a “chicken or egg” situation for aspirational academies, Adams added.

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist SciDev.Net

To lobby or not to lobby

November 8, 2010

The Royal Society led a spirited campaign to limit the cuts to the country's science budget. Credit: Flickr/Tracy O

An important question was raised this morning: Should scientific academies lobby policymakers?

The instinctive answer may be no. Earlier today we heard that one of the selling points – perhaps the selling point – of academies that appeals to policy advisors is their dispassionate objectivity.

But the Royal Society in the United Kingdom has pioneered a more passionate way of engaging with government on issues that relate directly to the ability of the country’s scientists to do their job.

Ian Thornton from the society explained how, faced with the “tightest budget in recent history” this year following the financial crisis, the society led a spirited campaign to limit the cuts to the country’s science budget.

The society gathered evidence to show that the UK punches above its weight in international science. It also showed how ‘competitors’ such as China, the US and Sweden were investing in science and technology as a way of kick-starting their stricken economies.

The lobby paper was timed to coincide with the UK elections in May, which saw power handed from the long-suffering Labour party to a coalition between the country’s Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, led by David Cameron.

“The report was timed to be the first thing that hit the new science minister’s desk,” Thornton said.

This is a controversial approach, even within the Royal Society, so it is not surprising that Thornton’s talk elicited concerned comments about the danger lobbying could pose to the objective ‘brand’ of the academy.

This concern is understandable, but I believe that there are policy areas where academies can take a stand without jeopardising their brand. The national science budget is one of them.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

Getting across to policymakers

November 8, 2010

Patrick Kelley and Lauren Alexander Augustine from the US National Academies of science (left) and Jimmy Volmink from ASSAF (right)

ASADI’s sixth annual meeting is in full swing. The energy-focused part of the conference will take off this evening but, today, the focus of discussion is academies’ role in evidence-based policymaking.

The session started off with some best practice on how science academies can make their voices heard and get their message across with maximum impact.

Borrowing a term from the world of marketing, academies were told to think of their academy’s reputation as a ‘brand’. For instance, Coca Cola does not keep its huge share of the cold drinks market by simply relying on its reputation or on single adverts. Coke branding is visible everywhere, constantly reminding us to choose it. This should give food for thought for academies wanting to build their brand.

Patrick Kelley of the United States Academy of Sciences said the strength of the academy brand is that it is authoritative and home grown, contextual and grounded, candid and apolitical.

African academies must nurture their brands, Kelley said. One way to do this is to promote the appointment of scientists to political positions. Scientists who go into politics will have an understanding of the value of the academy brand, and this will raise the academy’s profile in policymaking circles.

The timing of advice is also crucial for its take-up by policymakers, Kelley added. “If you want high uptake, you have to be timely.”

Munyaradzi Makoni, freelance journalist for SciDev.Net

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