Tapping into science advisers’ learning
Abstract: The art and craft of science advice is not innately known by those scientists who choose to step out of the lab or the university to engage with the world of policy. Despite a wealth of literature on the ‘science of science advice’, in nearly every situation there is no ‘teacher’ of science advice; it is a typical case of learning on the job. Within that context, the learning of scholars engaging in expert advice is always situated and can sometimes be transformative. To date, however, there has been no systematic, in-depth research into expert advisers’ learning—instead focusing mostly on policymakers’ and publics’ learning about science. In this article, I suggest that such a research programme is timely and potentially a very fruitful line of inquiry for two mains reasons. First, in the case of environmental and climate issues—the focus of the paper—it has become ubiquitous to talk about the need for transformative change(s) towards sustainable futures. If scholars are going to advocate for and inform transformations beyond academia, then in doing so they ought to also take a harder look at how they themselves are transforming within. Specifically, the article illustrates how qualitative research on advisers’ learning can contribute to our understanding of how experts are adapting to changing circumstances in science–policy interactions. Second, it is argued that research on advisers’ learning can directly contribute to: (i) guidance for present and future advisers (especially early-career researchers wishing to engage with policy) and organisational learning in science–policy organisations; and (ii) improving policy-relevance of research and the design of impact evaluations for research funding (e.g. Research Excellence Framework). With the hope of stimulating (rather than closing off) innovative ideas, the article offers some ways of thinking through and carrying out such a research programme. As the nature of both science and policymaking continues to change, the learning experiences of expert advisers is a bountiful resource that has yet to be tapped into.