Tag Archives: Science meets Parliament

national press club address

Australia’s science vision centres on collaboration

Featured image: Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, addresses the National Press Club at Science meets Parliament 2017

The Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, the Hon Arthur Sinodinas, highlighted collaboration and ensuring all Australians understood the benefits of science as key areas of focus for the Government’s science ‘vision’ in an address to the National Press Club.

The Hon Sinodinas is the fourth Minister for Science in four years. This was his inaugural address to what Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel termed the ‘network of nerds’, a gathering of over 200 of Australia’s most senior scientists at Science meets Parliament.

Sinodinas said innovation has become a buzzword that “excites socially mobile, inner-city types; but for other Australians, creates anxiety – about job losses and insecurity.”

However Australians need to be prepared for disruption as “the new constant”, he warned.

“We need to manage the transition from the resources boom to more balanced, broad-based growth.

“This is against the backdrop of heightened uncertainty and slower economic growth, and a yearning for more protectionist measures.”

Sinodinas went on to quote Atlassian co-founder and highly successful tech entrepreneur Mike Canon-Brookes, who recently questioned if the government was “dodging the question of job losses as a result of innovative change.”

“The Government has started a conversation with the Australian people to address just that question. We’re about helping your business to respond to disruption and stay viable in the future. We want to create a culture of innovation across the board.”

Australia’s climate science and energy future

Overall, the mood at Science meets Parliament, which brings 200 science, technology, engineering and maths professionals and researchers to Canberra to pitch their programs to politicians – about a third of whom volunteer their time – was positive and researchers were happy to be heard.

national press club address
Science meets Parliament brings together 200 STEM professionals, researchers and Australian politicians.

“Science meets Parliament is a great event. It is about recognising the contribution of scientists. Scientists and politicians should be natural communicators,” said Sinodinas.

He also addressed criticisms of the Government’s commitment to climate change science at the National Press Club address.

“We haven’t turn our back on climate science, we made sure it is properly looked after and protected and that will provide its own insight into climate science information. We are also trying to deal with this issue at the same time as we deal with the affordability and reliability of energy.”

Science at the forefront of the next election

Last night both the Minister and Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten presented their vision of science at a gala dinner. Sinodinas extolled Australia’s national research infrastructure, including the Australian Synchrotron and the Square Kilometre Array, a 3000-dish radio antennae that will offer an unique glimpse into the universe’s early history. He also emphasised we need to “nail collaboration”.

“As a country, if we want to have control over our economic destiny, we want to have world class companies operating out of Australia. To do that we need to nail collaboration.

“Finding the money for the next stage of the research infrastructure is a challenge.”

Shorten also highlighted collaboration as an essential goal, and reiterated the Opposition’s goal to invest 3% of GDP in science R&D by 2030.

“Science research and innovation are not niche areas. They should be frontline for all of us.

“The issues that scientists deal with are political and there needs to be this engagement,” said Shorten.

“Science research and innovation are economic, environmental and practical issues that are vital to adapting to technological change and will allow us to compete in the Asian market. It shapes the way that we learn and teach.”

national press club address
Opposition Leader the Hon Bill Shorten with Refraction Media Head of Content Heather Catchpole (left) and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown (right)

He also emphasized the need for job security for postgraduate researchers, a sentiment widely echoed by scientists attending the Science meets Parliament event.

“For all of those postdoc researchers who spend years, we owe you certainty in terms of support,” said Shorten.

“We can’t complain about fake news when the facts don’t suit the stories. We see you as essential to the future. Science will be at the forefront of the next election.”

– Heather Catchpole

how to engage people in science

How to engage people in science

Featured image: Dr Alan Finkel AO at Science meets Parliament 2017 with Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community & Outreach Manager for Google Australia 

Dr Finkel spoke about how to engage people with science at the 18th Science meets Parliament event in Canberra today. One of his key messages was to develop your elevator pitch.

“Identify the key idea and write it up as a 100-word media release, then try it out on a politician.”

The need to develop simple, clear pitches to engage people with science was echoed by Buzzfeed political reporter and panellist Alice Workman, who gave the example of the viral ‘big chicken’ video on twitter as exemplifying the ‘simple, no BS’ idea that can rapidly get picked up in media. The video, released yesterday, was retweeted 35,000 times.

While science research often cannot be distilled into one thought bubble, like any news story, science stories need a simple pitch that everyone can understand, Workman told the group of 200 scientists gathered for the two-day event.

“I think the bigger problem is trying not to use complicated words, but also to whittle stories down to their basics. Journalists are under the pump, and journalism is a business.”

Four key tools to engage people in science

Engaging an audience beyond clickbait requires a deep understanding of your audience, access to influential people and being prepared, said Dr Finkel, who listed attitude, ambassadors, access and ammunition as four key tools for science advocacy.

He emphasised having an open attitude to engage people with science.

“You can’t assume your audience knows the facts. You can always assume they have the capacity to learn.”

He also said that it was important for science to have ambassadors, and that his office was in ‘early consideration’ of a program that mirrored internships such as the volunteer internship program which allows students and professionals to learn from US congress – and which funds them for up to one year to learn about the political process there.

“Could we create the same process for Australia? It takes a person of integrity and awareness to be an ambassador. We need to create the same qualities in ambassadors for science,” said Finkel.

Access to politicians is tempered by a difference in timescales at which science and politics operate, he said.

“Research timeframes are long; the window to operate in politics is short. How then can we hit the window where the evidence and the opportunities align? This event is one. Another is the Commonwealth Science council for which the PM is chair. This allows politicians and researchers to identify areas of shared opportunity in areas such as expanding the economy and navigating risks.”

Before approaching politicians, or others you need to engage, Finkel advocated preparing your pitch as ammunition for the encounter, as well as consulting widely, gaining supporters and identifying paths to funding.

Science meets Parliament is held over two days in Canberra and includes a televised National Press Club address, and a day at Parliament House, where delegates meet privately with parliamentarians.

Heather Catchpole

science advocacy

Have your call to action ready

Featured image: delegates make their way to meetings with members of Parliament at Science meets Parliament

Krystal, when you first attended Science meets Parliament (SmP), how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I first attended SmP in 2011, when I was a medical research scientist and a founding member of The Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum. I had just been involved in the 2011 “Discoveries Need Dollars” campaign to protect medical research funding in Australia, and was keen to advocate not only for my research, but for the wider research sector.

The best way to prepare for any pitch is to know your audience. I was meeting with the Hon Judi Moylan, an MP from Western Australia, and so I researched her interests and background. I found that she was strong supporter of women’s issues and the diabetes community, and so was able to talk with her about the latest research in this area as well as ways to support women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

It was also important for me to connect with the other SmP delegates who were going to be in the same meeting to understand their key messages and how we could align and support each other’s objectives. We wanted to make sure each of us got time to pitch our own individual areas, as well as giving a positive, cohesive message about the importance of funding, fellowships and support for the future of research in Australia more broadly.

Lastly, I took some prepared material with me to leave behind. Not a big long report, but a one-pager outlining some of the issues facing researchers in Australia and some policy recommendations and actions to address the issues. It is important to put forward solutions, not just focus on the problems; to provide ideas and a call to action on what needs to be done to build Australia’s science and research future.

Did it have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I have been so excited over the past six years to see the increased support for women in STEM and the rising awareness of the need to support early- and mid-career researchers, who are our future science leaders.

This has been achieved by the work of many, many people and organisations, and I have been proud to be one of those voices advocating for change.

It is so important that our leaders and decision makers hear from a diversity of people on issues, so never underestimate the power of your voice to be a part of positive change and science advocacy.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament. What did you think of the event?

Attending SmP was a key part of my professional development in terms of understanding the political process and how to engage with politicians. It was an insight into a whole new world of how decisions about science and research are made and when and how scientists can contribute to policy agendas.

It was also an amazing networking experience – make sure you bring plenty of business cards and if you don’t have some, get some! It was fantastic to meet politicians from all across the political spectrum, and also to connect with other SmP delegates.

The connections I made at SmP with delegates who were passionate about science communication and science advocacy have stayed with me throughout my career and have created many ongoing opportunities over the years.  

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

When communicating your message, think about it like storytelling – have a beginning, a middle and an end. To begin, outline the problem, the middle is what could be achieved if you address the problem, and the end is the call to action on what you want to see happen next.

Always have a clear “ask” on what you want the person you’re meeting with to do next – and be specific. If a Minister says, “I understand the problem – what do you think I should do about it?” you need to have a clear pathway for action.

It’s also important to talk about who benefits from your research and to make it relevant not only to politicians, but to the wider community in terms of what you are trying to achieve.

Be positive. Don’t just talk about the problem, talk about the solutions. In fact, make sure you spend more time putting forward ideas for action than repeating the issues.

Be creative – don’t just ask for more money. Politicians are always meeting with people asking for more funding for their area of interest, so you also need to be able to provide ideas on what can be done without increasing the spend. Perhaps it is a policy change, a reallocation of existing resources or a need to raise the profile and awareness of an issue. Make it personal and customised, so that the person you are meeting with has a clear sense of exactly what you are asking them to do next and how they can work with you to bring about change.

Be useful. Politicians are busy people, with limited time and resources. If you can be an expert advisor to them, a “scientist on call” to provide them with information, background and insights, then you can build a trusted and respected relationship.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

Nothing is more powerful than engaging with the public and being able to show policymakers that the community cares about your science as much as you do. Having support from those who will benefit from your research – whether they’re farmers, patients, industry or community groups – will always add weight to your messages.

Science is mostly paid for by taxpayers, so leveraging support from the broader community can boost your voice and help to get your message heard by policymakers.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I would love to see more internships, where scientists are embedded in politicians’ offices so that they can experience government processes first-hand and contribute their knowledge and analytical skills to policymaking.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science in the US has some incredible internship opportunities and I think Australia would benefit from schemes such as these. It would break down the barriers between science and politics, build greater understanding on both sides and create ongoing relationships between researchers and our elected representatives.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

science policy

Make your expertise available

Featured image: President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Jim Piper (left), hosts a meeting between Science meets Parliament delegates and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) in 2016

Darren, what’s your particular area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

I am a medical researcher, working to understand the biology of cancer and neurodegeneration, and use that knowledge to design new therapies. Both diseases have a huge health and financial impact in Australia and internationally, and with an ageing population this impact will only increase, with obvious implications for health funding and policy.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your research pitch?

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was actually pretty underprepared. I won’t make that mistake this time!

Did your pitch have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

I had a great discussion with a Greens senator from Western Australia who had a strong interest in environmental issues. We talked about the importance of science in understanding the environment and gathering data as a foundation for drafting good evidence-based policy in areas such as fisheries management and forestry. In some ways I didn’t really have to do much convincing! 

This time I plan to research the electorate of the parliamentarians I’ll meet and the issues that might be important in that context. I’ll make sure I understand the issues they have flagged as important to them and think about how my background and research interests might align with those issues. I also plan to ask them questions to find common ground for discussion.

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament (SmP). What did you think of the event?

I was really enthused by SmP, and impressed by the level engagement of the politicians and policymakers who attended. I found it an invaluable learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to meet scientists across a broad spectrum of specialities.

Seeing the workings of government up close (if only briefly) was a real eye opener and the various briefings and workshops were constructive and informative. I still draw on the things I learnt there.

In many ways it was a catalyst to me becoming much more interested and active in science policy and communication.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Keep a constructive mindset and focus on how science might help, rather than just presenting a list of problems or complaints.

Listen to the concerns and issues that are important and make yourself available as a source of expertise and advice on the process and outcomes of science by fostering relationships.

Be aware that politics and policy development work to different timelines and use different language to science.

Try to take a bipartisan approach.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult barriers to progress have been the relatively regular turnover of ministers, a challenging funding environment (which always seems to dominate discussions) and hostile attitudes to evidence and rejection of “expertise” in some quarters. 

Overcoming these is really challenging and incredibly time-consuming. My approach is to attempt to build dialogue wherever possible, and to be proactive in making science relevant and interesting to the general public.

I take every opportunity I can to tell people about the outcomes and process of science. Public support for science might eventually translate into it being heard at the policy level.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I believe we can learn a lot from other countries. For example, we could benefit from aspects of science and policy partnering schemes employed in the UK, science diplomacy schemes in the US, and the appointment of ministers with relevant experience and qualifications in places like Canada.

Most government departments in the UK have a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to provide scientific advice and PhD students can undertake three-month internship placements in the Government Office for Science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have a Centre for Science Diplomacy which aims to use to promote scientific cooperation as an essential element of foreign policy.

What are you most looking forward to at Science meets Parliament this year, and what do you hope to see more of in the future?

I look forward to meeting interesting and driven people, gaining new insights and hopefully gaining some traction with politicians about the importance of science and its ability to help drive the health and prosperity of Australians.

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

science advocacy

Dare to talk about your ideas

Featured image: Science meets Parliament delegates meet with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014

Anne-Sophie, what’s your area of research and how can it help to inform policy in Australia?

My area of expertise is in plant pathology and plant physiology. When I was a researcher, I worked on projects that aimed to improve crop production through biotechnologies. I left research in November 2015 and I am now working in science regulation.

I attended Science meets Parliament (SmP) in 2015 to talk about my advocacy efforts regarding diversity and gender balance in research. The projects I was running at that stage, such as an interview series known as The League of Remarkable Women in Science, offered a snapshot of Australian science, featuring women from all backgrounds and all areas of STEM.

These projects were a way to better understand what it means to be a woman in Australian science and what can be done to improve gender balance in research.

When you first attended Science meets Parliament, how did you prepare for your pitch?

Before the event, I made sure I spoke with people who had previously attended SmP. I also sought the advice of my mentors, who helped me define (and refine) my pitch.

The first day of SmP was incredibly useful, as it allowed me to fine-tune what I wanted to say and clarify my expectations from the conference.

Did it have the desired outcome? What would you do differently next time?

It did! I knew that attending SmP would be very productive, but I wasn’t expecting it would make such a difference. By attending SmP, I was able to initiate discussions with the Hon Karen Andrews, who went on to co-chair an event I ran for National Science Week later that year. I would have never dreamed of this happening!

Describe your experience at Science meets Parliament. What did you think of the event?

SmP was a very positive, even transforming event for me. It allowed me to interact with people I would have never met otherwise, and created opportunities that would not have arisen otherwise.

On a more personal level, attending SmP felt very special; I am originally from overseas, and I would never have imagined that I would converse with members of Parliament, let alone invite them to be part of events I was organising.

I have stayed in touch with some of the attendees I met during SmP. Many of them are now good friends of mine, or people I have run events and projects with. It has been a highly positive experience indeed!

What advice do you have for other researchers who are trying to turn their knowledge into action?

Dare to talk about your ideas! I used to think that the projects I was running were not important enough to attract interest from members of Parliament. I thought that I would waste their time. But it turned out to be the opposite. I believe researchers often underestimate the impact that our knowledge and projects can have.

What have been the major challenges in getting your science advocacy efforts heard by policymakers in Australia, and how have you overcome them?

The issues I was focusing on turned out to be of great interest to the members of Parliament I met. They all knew women working in science or had worked in science themselves, and they were convinced that changes had to be made. So I would say that it was actually quite easy to be heard by policymakers.

How do you think the relationship between science and politics in Australia compares with other countries, and what lessons could we take from overseas?

I have the feeling that building relationships between science and politics is somehow easier here in Australia than, for example, in France. I would never have had the opportunity of meeting members of Parliament in France the way I did during SmP. Such meetings are limited to high-ranked, senior scientists.

What do you hope to see more of at Science meets Parliament in the future?

I am hoping to see a greater focus on the crucial issues Australian science urgently needs to address. For example, what can be done to improve diversity in research? How do we stop losing so many talented early-career scientists? How do we address the harassment and bullying issues that are so prevalent?

Click here to find out more about Science meets Parliament.

evidence-based policy

Evidence-based policy in action

Science has evolved over many centuries to become an integral part of modern society, underpinning our health, wealth generation and cultural fabric. This process has been distinguished by an implicit collaboration between science and business, government, and the wider community.

However, the integration of science with evidence-based policy has – in this century – often been wilfully disregarded by politicians in many countries, who either cherry-pick or completely ignore the science when it does not accord with their political agenda. Most recently in the United States, we have seen “alternative facts” supplant scientific and other evidence bases in the “post-fact” era.

While surveys continue to show that the vast majority of people still support and believe in the benefits of science, the politicisation of science has inevitably raised seeds of doubt, or polarised many people’s world view.

So it is important now, more than ever, to reinforce with politicians the value and respect for science in the creation of evidence-based policy.

In Australia, a key connection between science and politics is the annual “Science meets Parliament” (SmP) event, which began in 1999, and which today is organised by Science and Technology Australia.  This unique event, that each year brings together hundreds of scientists and the Australian Parliament, owes its success to the way in which it saturates Parliament with science for two days; the great majority of parliamentarians are engaged in the all-pervasive nature of this important scientific exchange.

There are three key outcomes of SmP that distinguish it from a lobbying event:

1. Scientists both young and old – through their enthusiasm for their research – convey the excitement and the benefits of science to parliamentarians, thereby helping to close the “virtuous cycle” that supports science in society;

2. Scientists, at the same time, develop an appreciation for the process of government, contributing significantly to their professional development;

3. Finally, lasting networks are created between parliamentarians and scientists. They go beyond the meetings at SmP, and enable scientific engagement with Parliament to extend more broadly, both geographically and throughout scientific and parliamentary careers.

These networks, and the collaborations that they engender, are key to ensuring the ongoing contribution of science to government decision-making and evidence-based policy, and thereby to enhancing the role of science in our society.

As is the case with science and industry, it is important to continuously innovate in our governance processes; without this, the political system cannot respond to the changing needs of the community.

Science, through events like Science meets Parliament, is a key part of that evolution. We must work tirelessly to reinvigorate this engagement, and to counter those who might seek to cherry-pick and subvert the science that underpins our evidence-based society.

Professor Kenneth Baldwin

Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University

Founder, Science Meets Parliament

Read next: Kylie Walker, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, sheds light on the platforms that allow researchers to forge relationships with Australia’s decision-makers.

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Science meets parliament

Science meets Parliament

Featured image above: In his  National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.

Finkel’s speech was the National Press Club address for Science meets Parliament 2016. This two-day event brings together scientists looking for better ways to communicate their research to policy makers.

Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.

With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meets Parliament program covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.

The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.

It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.

At last year’s event, Professor Ian Chubb AC, former Chief Scientist, spoke about the pace of progress over the past 25 years and how science will be a cornerstone for future prosperity.

This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.

Click here to see some of the speeches presented at last year’s event, such as The Messy Nature of the Policymaking Process, Who is Inspiring Australia? and Getting your Science out of the Lab.

– Elise Roberts