A short while ago I commented on Sir Philip Gluckman's remarks on The Honest Broker. As science advisor to the New Zealand government he has prepared a discussion paper on science advice to government. Here is an excerpt (here in PDF):
It is important to separate as far as possible the role of expert knowledge generation and evaluation from the role of those charged with policy formation. Equally, it is important to distinguish clearly between the application of scientific advice for policy formation (‘science for policy’) and the formation of policy for the operation of the Crown’s science and innovation system, including funding allocation (‘policy for science’). This paper is concerned with the former. A purely technocratic model of policy formation is not appropriate in that knowledge is not, and cannot be, the sole determinant of how policy is developed. We live in a democracy, and governments have the responsibility to integrate dimensions beyond that covered in this paper into policy formation, including societal values, public opinion, affordability and diplomatic considerations while accommodating political processes.Very smart stuff.
Science in its classic linear model can offer direct guidance on many matters, but increasingly the nature of science itself is changing and it has to address issues of growing complexity and uncertainty in an environment where there is a plurality of legitimate social perspectives. In such situations, the interface between science and policy formation becomes more complex. Further, many decisions must be made in the absence of quality information, and research findings on matters of complexity can still leave large areas of uncertainty. In spite of this uncertainty, governments still must act. Many policy decisions can have uncertain downstream effects and on-going evaluation is needed to gauge whether such policies and initiatives should be sustained or revised. But, irrespective of these limitations, policy formed without consideration of the most relevant knowledge available is far less likely to serve the nation well.
Also, the Sustainable Future Institute, a New Zealand-based think tank, has issued an executive summary of a forthcoming report on NZ science policy (here in PDF) along with a historical overview of recent NZ science policies (here in PDF). Learn more via the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network.