Quixotic or Essential: Science advice, public policy and the post-truth dynamic by Sir Peter Gluckman
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Over the past decade New Zealand has developed a science advisory mechanism to assist the executive of government. This development can be seen as part of an international trend to enhance the science-policy interface (using science in the broadest sense to encapsulate the robust knowledge disciplines). This interface is complex and multidimensional. Scientific evidence assist the decision-making process leading to enhanced choices between policy options, but there are significant issues on the supply side, the demand side and at the interface. There is no area of government where robust evidence cannot advance the policy process. Data alone are not information, information without expert analysis is not knowledge, and knowledge itself only becomes evidence when appropriately applied to the question in hand.
Sir Peter will review current thinking about the processes, structures and skill sets needed to improve the incorporation of evidence into policy. It is essential that these processes are robust; however, the trend towards applying generic policy evaluation methods rather than deep domain expertise can crimp the potential for robust evidence to usefully impact on the policy decisions.
New challenges are emerging. These include the size of the scientific enterprise, the incorporation of different epistemologies, the confused state of accessible and reliable knowledge on the web, and the impacts of digitalisation that will allow Big Data and AI to impact on public policy. While New Zealand has been at the forefront of these latter areas with the Integrated Data Infrastructure programme, major issues have emerged and will continue to emerge, in part because of the failure to get adequate data governance in place. The so-called ‘post-truth’ dynamic, which has yet to extensively infect New Zealand, undermines the role of evidence in policy-making. In the current international political climate it is becoming ever-more apparent that robust evidential input into policy is a core part of protecting democracy. Sir Peter will use examples from his experience to explore these issues and reflect on general and emerging principles relating to all-important knowledge brokerage. He will also highlight some research questions he is hoping to address.
Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ KNZM FMedSci FRSNZ FRS was the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 2009 to 2018 and developed New Zealand’s departmental Science Advisors network. He also acted as Science Envoy for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and coordinated the secretariat of the Small Advanced Economies Initiative. He is chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) and president-elect of the International Science Council (ISC