How and what do science advisers learn? Insights from environmental science-policy in the UK

Change log

Through their engagements with science-policy, academics often have to revisit some of their enduring assumptions and expectations about the world of policymaking. They have to learn to become (effective) science advisers in diverse contexts. No instruction manuals or guidelines have quite prepared them for their experiences sitting on scientific advisory committees or meeting with civil servants. Many scholars have spoken about the importance of learning in the interactions between scientists and policymakers, but there has been little empirical investigation putting science advisers’ learning under the microscope. How and what do they learn? How do the various advisory settings they inhabit shape their learning? And how (if at all) is their learning differentiated by levels of experience and other factors such as disciplinary training? These are some of the questions I address in this thesis. Based on in-depth interviews with experienced advisers and early-career researchers, and ethnographic observations of advisory meetings, I analyse the different moving parts in advisers’ learning journeys and the extent to which their learning is situated and transformative. I argue that there are three levels at which such an analysis can be organised: the macro (professional cultures), micro (individual profiles), and meso (organisational cultures). I discuss them in that order. Following a grounded theory approach, I devise a model of advisers’ learning based on the idea of the cultural encounter and two models of science advice (collective intelligence and networked intelligence) with repercussions on learning. I also introduce and reflect on methodological innovations, including an experimental pilot of longitudinal diaries and a stylised simulation of a scientific advisory committee. In the final chapter, I discuss the promise of these methods and present the practical implications of my findings for less experienced advisers, early-career researchers, educators, science-policy researchers, and knowledge brokers.

Hulme, Michael
Science-Policy, Science Advice, Adult Learning, Environment & Climate Change, Qualitative Methods, Interdisciplinary Social Science, Grounded Theory, United Kingdom
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Economic and Social Research Council (2112765)
ESRC (2112765)
Economic and Social Research Council Studentship