Humanities at the heart of government: What does policy making stand to gain?

Written by Natalie Miazga, CSaP Policy Intern.

Last week the Centre for Science and Policy held its fourth annual conference at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge.  This year our conference explored opportunities for improving the way government accesses, assesses and makes use of expertise from the humanities, and offered examples of the significant contribution these disciplines have made to public policy.

Earlier in the conference, it had emerged that the worlds of humanities and government were “poles apart”. Reflecting on this, Lord Wilson (chairing the session) highlighted the huge resource in academia from which government could benefit. This session focused on the humanities at the heart of government and what policy making stands to gain.

You can listen to a recording of the discussion here: //

“All law is about people; the humanities are fundamentally about people and must be part of policy making”

Graham PendleburyGraham Pendlebury (Department for Transport) discussed the role of the humanities in shaping public policy from the view of a civil servant. He described policy work as a 3-ring circus that consists of evidence, politics and delivery or ‘do-ability’; the art is to become a ring master who can bring all three elements together. He described the principles from humanities that are at the heart of the democratic system of governance, these included justice, rights and freedom. Graham concluded with six brief thoughts and advice for all. He suggested engaging with policy makers on longstanding societal challenges, more urgent topics and issues, and newly emerging areas. He emphasised the need for balanced advice and to always remember the 3-ring circus.

“EU law already contains the flexibility necessary to protect the welfare system against abuse by migrants”

catherine barnardProfessor Catherine Barnard (Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge) provided a worked example of how the humanities can contribute to policy making by addressing the complex and toxic issues surrounding the free movement of workers within the EU. She described the fears around immigration, which include welfare and healthcare tourism. Catherine also described the EU rules around the migration of workers and noted that not all migrants to the UK are the same, because there is a distinction between host state and home state control. She demonstrated the complexity of the subject but highlighted the existing flexibility of EU law and the fact that it is always worth remembering that sometimes migrants have a lot to offer.

“From closed policy making inside the boundary of institutions to open and collaborative policy making”

Fabrizio SestiniThe final talk given by Dr Fabrizio Sestini (European Commission DG Connect) discussed the role of the humanities in policy making in relation to communication networks. He described how ‘hyperconnectivity’ can remove barriers and encourage broader participation, therefore, the use of technology to may enable more collaborative policy process. He explained how different collective awareness platforms can collect and share data directly from citizens, which can be integrated with statistics to make better informed decisions. However, multiple disciplinary challenges exist such as safeguarding privacy for contributors and motivation and incentives for online collaboration.

Lord Wilson concluded the session by noting that the interaction between government and the humanities has the potential to provide enormous scope for rich discourse and how, by having an open dialogue, we can prosper.


About centreforscienceandpolicy

The Centre for Science and Policy is helping to bridge the gap between academia and government by promoting engagement between researchers and policy makers.
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