Eight months after the fact, I find out from the Canadian Science Policy Centre website that a private member’s bill calling for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer was tabled (November 2013) in Canada’s House of Commons. From a Nov. 21, 2013 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,
With the Harper government facing continued criticism from many quarters over its policies towards science, the opposition has announced it wants to put in place a parliamentary champion to better shield government researchers and their work from political misuse.
In a private member’s bill to be tabled next week the NDP [New Democratic Party] science and technology critic, Kennedy Stewart, calls for the establishment of a parliamentary science officer reporting not to the government nor to the Prime Minister’s office, but to Parliament as a whole.
The role envisioned in the NDP bill is based in part on a U.K. model and is similar in its independence to that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The seven-year, one-term appointment would also work in concert with other federal science advisory bodies, including the Science, Technology and Innovation Council – which provides confidential scientific advice to the government but not to Parliament – and the Council of Canadian Academies, which provides publicly accessible information related to science policy but does not make recommendations.
Speaking to a room mainly filled with science policy professionals, Dr. Stewart drew applause for the idea but also skepticism about whether such an ambitious multi-faceted role could be realistically achieved or appropriately contained within one job.
Stewart was speaking about his private member’s bill at the 2013 Canadian Science Policy Conference held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013.
More recently and in New Zealand, a national strategic plan for science in society was released (h/t to James Wilsdon’s twitter feed). From a July 29, 2014 Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor media release,
With today’s [July 29, 2014] launch of A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society by Ministers Joyce and Parata [Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Steven Joyce, and Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata ], Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor,called it an important next step in a journey. Sir Peter was Chair of the National Science Challenges Panel that recommended Government take action in this area, and was Chair of the Reference Group that advised on the plan.
Sir Peter noted that a stand-out feature of the plan is that it does not simply put the onus on the public – whether students, families, or communities – to become better informed about science. Rather, there is a clear indication of the responsibility of the science sector and the role of the media in making research more accessible and relevant to all New Zealanders. “It is a two-way conversation,” said Sir Peter. “Scientists can no longer assume that their research direction and their results are of interest only to their peers, just as the public and governments need to better understand the types of answers that they can and cannot expect from science.”
The plan also calls for a Participatory Science Platform. Curiosity aroused, I chased down more information, From p. 31 (PDF) of New Zealand’s national strategic plan for science in society,
The participatory science platform builds on traditional concepts in citizen science and enhances these through collaborative approaches more common to community-based participatory research. [emphasis mine] Participatory science is a method of undertaking scientific research where volunteers can be meaningfully involved in research in collaboration with science professionals (including post- graduate students or researchers and private sector scientists) and builds on international models of engagement.
The goal is to involve schools/kura and/or community-based organisations such as museums and associations in projects with broad appeal, that have both scientific value and pedagogical rigour, and that resonate with the community. In addition, several ideas are being tested for projects of national significance that would integrate with the National Science Challenges and be national in reach.
The participatory science platform has the potential to:
›offer inspiring and relevant learning opportunities for students and teachers
›engage learners and participants beyond the school/kura community to reach parents, whānau
and wider communities
›offer researchers opportunities to become involved in locally relevant lines of enquiry, where data can be enriched by the local knowledge and contribution of citizens.
The participatory science platform is built on four core components and incorporates mātauranga
1. A process that seeks ideas for participatory science projects both from the community (including early childhood education services and kōhanga reo, schools/kura, museums and other organisations, Kiwi authorities or community associations) and from science professionals (from post-graduate students to principal investigators in both the public and private sectors
2. A managed process for evaluating these ideas for both pedagogical potential (in the case of schools/kura) and scientific quality, and for ensuring their practicality and relevance to the participating partners (science sector and community-based)
3. A web-based match-making process between interested community-based partners and science professionals
4. A resource for teachers and other community or learning leaders to assist in developing their projects to robust standards.
The platform’s website will serve as a match-making tool between scientists and potential community-based partners seeking to take part in a research project by offering a platform for community-initiated and scientist-initiated research.
A multi-sectoral management and review panel will be established to maintain quality control over the programme and advise on any research ethics requirements.
All projects will have an institutional home which will provide a coordination role. This could be a school, museum, zoo, science centre, iwi office or research institute, university or other tertiary
The projects will be offered as opportunities for community-based partners to participate in scientific research as a way to enhance their local input, their science knowledge and their interest,
and (in the case of schools) to strengthen learning programmes through stronger links to relevant learning environments and expertise.
Once matches are made between community-based partners and scientists, these partners would self-direct their involvement in carrying out the research according to an agreed plan and approach.
A multi-media campaign will accompany the launch of programme, and a dedicated website/social media site will provide a sustained channel of communication for ideas that continue to emerge. It will build on the momentum created by the Great New Zealand Science Project and leverages the legacy of that project, including its Facebook page. [emphasis mine]
To enable more sophisticated projects, a limited number of seed grants will be made available to help foster a meaningful level of community involvement. The seed grants will part-fund science professionals and community/school groups to plan together the research question, data collection, analysis and knowledge translation strategy for the project. In addition, eligible costs could include research tools or consumables that would not otherwise be accessible to community partners.
I admire the ambitiousness and imagination of the Participatory Science Platform project and hope that it will be successful. As for the rest of the report, there are 52 pp. in the PDF version for those who want to pore over it.
For anyone unfamiliar (such as me) with the Great New Zealand Science Project, it was a public consultation where New Zealanders were invited to submit ideas and comments about science to the government. As a consequence of the project, 10 research areas were selected as New Zealand’s National Science Challenges. From a June 25, 2014 government update,
On 1 May 2013 Prime Minister John Key and Hon Steven Joyce, Minister of Science and Innovation, announced the final 10 National Science Challenges.
The ten research areas identified as New Zealand’s first National Science Challenges are:
Ageing well – harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life …
A better start – improving the potential of young New Zealanders to have a healthy and successful life …
Healthier lives – research to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems …
High value nutrition – developing high value foods with validated health benefits …
New Zealand’s biological heritage – protecting and managing our biodiversity, improving our biosecurity, and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms …
Our land and water – Research to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations …
Sustainable seas – enhance utilisation of our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.
The deep south – understanding the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment …
Science for technological innovation – enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth …
Resilience to nature’s challenges – research into enhancing our resilience to natural disasters …
The release of “A Nation of Curious Minds, the national strategic plan for science in society” is timely, given that the 2014 Science Advice to Governments; a global conference for leading practitioners is being held mere weeks away in Auckland, New Zealand (Aug. 28, – 29, 2014).
In Canada, we are waiting for the Council of Canadian Academies’ forthcoming assessment The State of Canada’s Science Culture, sometime later in 2014. The assessment is mentioned at more length here in the context of a Feb. 22, 2013 posting where I commented on the expert panel assembled to investigate the situation and write the report.