Time for Science to Seize Political Power
In your wildest dreams, could you imagine a government that builds its policies on carefully gathered scientific evidence? One that publishes the rationale behind its decisions, complete with data, analysis and supporting arguments? Well, dream no longer: that’s where the UK is heading.
It has been a long time coming, according to Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department for Education. The civil service is not short of clever people, he points out, and there is no lack of desire to use evidence properly. More than 20 years as a serving politician has convinced him that they are as keen as anyone to create effective policies. “I’ve never met a minister who didn’t want to know what worked,” he says. What has changed now is that informed policy-making is at last becoming a practical possibility.
That is largely thanks to the abundance of accessible data and the ease with which new, relevant data can be created. This has supported a desire to move away from hunch-based politics.
Last week, for instance, Rebecca Endean, chief scientific advisor and director of analytical services at the Ministry of Justice, announced that the UK government is planning to open up its data for analysis by academics, accelerating the potential for use in policy planning.
At the same meeting, hosted by innovation-promoting charity NESTA, Wormald announced a plan to create teaching schools based on the model of teaching hospitals. In education, he said, the biggest single problem is a culture that often relies on anecdotal experience rather than systematically reported data from practitioners, as happens in medicine. “We want to move teacher training and research and practice much more onto the health model,” Wormald said.