REASONABLE SOCIETY – creating an independent, virtual, ‘think tank’?

Screenshot 2019-03-16 at 13.07.09British politics is a mess. It’s increasingly polarised between hard right and hard left.

Trying to make reasonable public policy, based in evidence and expertise rather than just ideology, has become ever harder.

Various political groupings are trying to fill the vacuum and the sensible centre, but they are mostly under-resourced.

We are creating something to try help this process. A sort of virtual Independent Think Tank.

The initial idea is simple.

  • A moderated panel of academics and experts who are willing to give at least some time and help on particular policy issues.
  • A set of moderate politicians who need help and advice (initially involving the new Independent Group and the Liberal Democrats).
  • Bring them together on a secure platform so that the politicians can pose questions or ask for help from the experts, and they can give it if they can.

We’ve called it REASONABLE SOCIETY because you can read it in several ways – all of which resonate with what we’re trying to do. Its about applying reason, rather than ideology, to solving societies problems.

It may or may not work, but we think it’s worth giving a try?

If you want to join us, or just know more, email colintalbot@mac.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consilient Science? Confronting Global Challenges

41QCRQTJF7L._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_Many of the big challenges and issues confronting humanity are only solvable using all available knowledge – across disciplines and paradigms of knowledge. Edward Wilson set out an agenda for better integration of all sciences in his book “Consilience” two decades ago.

In 2018 the World Economic Forums annual global risk assessment was published. It identified a large number of issues. The top eight concerns are listed below. If we crudely divide academic disciplines into three groups – physical sciences, engineering and technology and social sciences (including humanities) it is easy to see that any solutions to any of these eight issues require inputs from all three areas of academic research and expertise (see below).

WEF Annual Global Risk Assessment – Top Few Risks and Possible Contributions from the sciences?

Top global risks according to WEF 2018

Physical
Sciences

Engineering & Technology Social
Sciences

Extreme Weather

x

x

x

Natural Disasters

x

x x

Mitigation failure

x

x

x

Water shortages

x

x

x

Cyber-attacks

x

x

x

Ecosystem failure

x

x

x

Mass migration

x

x

x

Food crises x x

x

There are some who would argue that it is sufficient for individual academic disciplines to make their distinct and unique contributions to these problems and their policy solutions and leave it to others – policymakers? – to integrate their offerings.

More-over many of the most interesting developments in knowledge, of both practice and theory, are coming from inter- or trans-disciplinary domains.

There have been huge developments in the practical integration of knowledge across many disciplines often outside of academia – examples like rare species preservation, ecological management, space exploration, etc come to mind.

In addition the existence of multi-disciplinary social science ‘vocational’ University departments – like social work, business administration, public administration and public policy – have encouraged more cross-disciplinary working and created their own ‘spaces’ (conferences, journals, etc) where such fusions can occur (although that is not a given even in these schools – disciplinary boundaries can still persist).

There have also been increasing attempts to address the theoretical issues involved in integrating knowledge across disciplines, especially in the social sciences. Some adopt what might be called a strong inter-disciplinary approach – that is that individual disciplines such as anthropology, economics, political science, social psychology, and sociology should maintain their separate identities but collaborate more across disciplinary boundaries.

41yt4Gt7myL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_
Others have taken a more radical approach to trans-disciplinary, or even fully integrated, social science – which is more in keeping with the approach of ‘Consilience’ – i.e. the unity of knowledge. Although few acknowledge it explicitly, this is precisely what has happened in practice in the big applied fields of business, public administration, public policy and many specific domains such as health services, education, criminal justice and other policy and practice arenas.

Such efforts at integration have, however, been made even harder by paradigmatic differences (which cut through many academic disciplines, especially in social sciences). By paradigmatic differences we mean the big debates over ontological, epistemological and methodological issues.

Integration Across Disciplines and Across Paradigms?

Single Discipline Inter- or Trans-Disciplinary

Single Paradigm 

Simple

Moderately simple

 Multi-paradigm/method Moderately challenging

Very challenging

A variety of terms and concepts are used to characterise this paradigmatic cleavage (indeed the term ‘paradigm’ is itself controversial): positivism versus post positivism; scientific realism versus social constructionism; etc. We would contend that cross-paradigmatic dialogue and integration is in many respects far more challenging than cross-disciplinary working within the same paradigm? (See Figure 1)

It might be thought that adding an additional challenge – that of making integrated knowledge accessible to policy-shapers – would make things even more difficult. On the contrary, we would argue that adding a practical focus to the problem of cross-disciplinary and paradigmatic working provides a spur to better integration.

The big examples of successful bringing together of various knowledges for practical purposes – whether it be landing humans on the Moon or preserving rare species, of managing complex businesses and government agencies or addressing complex policy problems – suggest it is this practical focus that provides the incentives needed.

51QTmI2sDLL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

This will be the focus of a new journal we are developing: Consilient Science.

The purposes of CONSILIENT SCIENCE are:

To promote dialogue and integration amongst academic disciplines through a focus on significant problems and challenges to humanity

To promote dialogue between academia and policymakers to enable both sides to better understand both possible challenges and feasible solutions

To critically but positively examine the processes by which both of the above take place to improve them.

CONSILIENT SCIENCE will be open to all academic disciplines but its focus is on trans-disciplinary contributions and dialogue. (This does not exclude contributions from a single disciplinary perspective, so long as they also engage with other disciplinary viewpoints).

CONSILIENT SCIENCEwill be academically rigorous, through open peer review, but also to accessible to both academic and non-academic audiences, especially policy shapers and makers in the media, politics, business, civil society and the wider public.

The initial Editorial Advisory Board includes:

Honorary President: Edward O. Wilson (Harvard)

Members: Diane Coyle (Cambridge), Brian Cox (Manchester), Athene Donal (Cambridge), Robin Dunbar (Oxford), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Dan Davis (Manchester), David Sloan Wilson (Binghampton), Henry Mintzberg (McGill), Mariana Mazucato (UCL), Mike Kenny (Cambridge), David Schultz (Manchester), Mark Collard (Simon Fraser), Jennifer Rubin (ESRC UK), Beryl Radin (George Washington), Kiyoshi Yamamoto (Tokyo), Reito Gotoh (Hitobashi), Edward Slingerland (British Colombia), Bobby Duffy (Kings, London), Lord Michael Bichard (London), Geoff Mulgan (NESTA, London), Ralph Heintzman (Ottawa), Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh (Cambridge), Catherine Rhodes (Cambridge)

(*All those listed have all agreed to participate).

If you want to follow how this develops, sign up to our twitter feed @ConsilientS 

Christopher Pollitt RIP

ChristopherMy friend, mentor, critic and collaborator and great scholar Christopher Pollitt has died after a long illness. You will be hugely missed Christopher.

My thoughts go out to Hilkka and the extended family.

Christopher had a wonderfully dry sense of humour. When my wife Carole became pregnant with our son Alex (my first biological offspring), I emailed Christopher with the news. His response was typical: “don’t worry, the first 30 years is the worst”. Continue reading

It Wasn’t The Cough That Carried Her Off…..

I have been thinking about THAT SPEECH by Theresa May all day today. Why?

Well, on a very personal level, first I have a cough problem. Not a “here today gone tomorrow” cough problem. I’ve had it chronically since 2009 on and off before that. I’m receiving treatment at a specialist and experimental cough clinic. I recently discovered it may go back to an industrial accident I had in 1970!

Be that as it may, I therefore have some sympathy with anyone caught out by an uncontrollable cough in public speaking situations. I have had them. I have had lectures where I’ve collapsed into fits of coughing so alarming the students got worried I was about to expire. I have had to leave meetings. I have had to decline live radio and TV on days when I knew I was at risk.

So, I understand.

Which is why I am totally and utterly dumfounded by the sycophantic drivel being spouted about “poor Theresa”. Continue reading

UNIVERSITY PUBLIC POLICY BLOGS – WHY & HOW?

Cambridge Policy Lab

University-based public policy blog sites are growing in number in the UK. Why?

Partly, this is obviously driven by the so-called “impact” agenda – Universities proving the worth of their research to funding agencies, Government, the media and the public. Impact on public policy is an important part of “impact”.

So why blog sites? A University public policy blogsite offers two huge advantages.

Internally, within a University, it provides a way of quickly sharing policy-related research and developments in an easily digestible format. It is especially useful in developing early-career researchers who can share their work quickly and get feedback from more experienced colleagues outside of the normal, formal, University and academic channels.

Externally, it provides a platform to share – again quickly and accessibly – University public policy research with the wider world and provide ‘sign-posting’ to more in-depth engagement for practitioners and policymakers.

Blogs are essentially a publishing…

View original post 1,210 more words

EU & Academia: funding matters too – Prof Dame Athene Donald

Another leading physicist, Professor Dame Athene Donald of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge has added her voice and a slightly difimage_normalferent perspective
to the discussion about Universities, academics and Brexit. She told me:
“As a member of the European Research Council Scientific Council I am very aware both of the
success of academics in the UK in obtaining ERC funding and also the
value people place on the ‘portability’ of grants awarded under these
schemes.

Continue reading

Blears: Joined-Up Jargon Queen Quits Government

Hazel Blears, Communities and Local Government Secretary in the Labour Government has announced her decision to leave the government on the eve of local government elections in England, in what is being widely seen as direct attack on PM Gordon Brown.

“In this next phase of my political life I am redoubling my efforts to speak up for the people of Salford as their Member of Parliament. I am returning to the grassroots (where I began), to political activism, to the cut and thrust of political debate. Most of all I want to help the Labour Party to reconnect with the British people, to remind them that our values are their values, that their hopes and dreams are ours too. I am glad to be going home to the people who matter the most to me: the people of Salford.” From Hazel Blears resignation letter.

“I am not normally the sort of politician who gets excited by LAAs, MAAs and LSPs, but I am excited by IRSs because they represent a real shift in power.” Hazel Blears, quoted in Public Servant June 2009. (see below for translation)

It seems, if the above two quotes above are anything to go by, that Hazel Blears has decided to return to the grass-roots just in time before she completely disappeared into Whitehall village idiocy – only someone who’ been hanging around Sir Humphrey too long could come out with the second quote.

(Of course the real reasons Blears has left government has more to do with (a) being caught avoiding capital gains tax on her 2nd home and paying £13,322 tax to make amends and (b) making a very public attack on the PM after his appearance on YouTube to promote his ideas about reforming MPs expenses).

All joking aside, the advent of these various supra-local government agreements, under the slogan of ‘joined-up government’, has been a key feature of local public service reforms from this Labour government in recent years. And the most obvious thing about them is that they have gradually moved further and further away from direct democratic control.

I have already written on this blog that the new ‘Comprehensive Area Assessments’ (CAAs) from the Audit Commission risk reducing greatly the element of democratic accountability that Comprehensive Performance Assessments (CPAs) – that assessed local government directly and thereby gave voters some much needed insight into how ‘their’ representative democratic body was doing. LSPs, LAAs, MAAs and now IRSs all take agreements about what priorities to deliver, and how, further and further away from direct democratic accountability.

According to Blears’, quoted in Public Servant, IRSs would be the “catalyst to tackle the big issues” during the recession and beyond. Similar things have been said about the whole plethora or regional and city-regional initiatives. But the Labour government seems incapable of recognising that these new regional tiers of government, even if democratically elected (which most of them aren’t) have been consistently rejected by the voters who clearly don’t want them.

Hopefully Blears’ successor will get back to the agenda of reforming and strengthening local democracy rather than spiralling further off into the realms of quango-land.

Given the current crisis of democratic legitimacy at national level, now is surely the time to start rebuilding it from the bottom-up, starting with a dramatic shift of power from Whitehall to Townhall. This is not without its problems (see my article in Public Finance this Friday) but it is vital if we are to re-establish a bond of trust between elected politicians and the people.

 Joined-Up Jargon Buster

CPA: Comprehensive Performance Assessment; carried out by Audit Commission on local governments. Widely seen as helpful but now superceded by:

CAA: Comprehensive Area Assessments; performance assessment of all (or most) public services in a local authority area.

LAA: Local Area Agreement, a sort of performance agreement between different public services in a single local government area (mandatory).

MAA: same sort of thing covering multiple local authority areas (voluntary).

LSP: Local Strategic Partnership – loose agreement about priorities and policy for a single LA area.

IRS: Integrated Regional Strategy – same sort of thing as LSP covering a whole region.