Health and Healthcare Systems

Here’s how 1 million scientists and 100 million hours could revolutionize policy-making

Mobilizing scientists and forging relationships between the scientific community and policymakers will be key in building resilience to, and preventing, future global crises.

Mobilizing scientists and forging relationships between the scientific community and policy-makers will be key in building resilience to, and preventing, future global crises. Image: REUTERS

Ruth Morgan
Vice Dean (Interdisciplinarity Entrepreneurship), UCL Faculty of Engineering Sciences, University College London (UCL)
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  • World Economic Forum Young Scientists call for 1 million scientists to engage for 100 million hours a year with global leaders.
  • COVID-19 pandemic shows how critical science is in responding to present and future challenges.
  • But ongoing dialogue in networks of trust and transparency between scientists and policy-makers continues to be needed.

What if we could be ready for a crisis before it strikes — and even prevent it?

Science is a critical part of achieving this, but it is imperative that we rethink how we enable dialogue between scientists and policy-makers if we want to improve preparedness and resilience for any future crisis — a necessity that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the world acutely aware of.

Scientists are not always recognized and nor are they incentivized to devote their time toward building the bridges and relationships with policy-makers that create networks and build trust. As a result, science and scientists are all too often left out of the conversations about how we face the future — whatever it may look like.

What if we could mobilize 1 million scientists and create 100 million hours a year to contribute to fixing this?

The COVID pandemic has illustrated just how important working with science is for those tasked with making difficult decisions in a dynamic, uncertain and evolving situation. While it is increasingly accepted that science is necessary for policy-making, this is not something that can happen overnight.

For decision making that is informed by excellent science — its data, theories and insights — there needs to be dialogue between scientists and global leaders. To build and establish relationships, networks and, crucially, trust, those conversations need to be ongoing over long periods of time.

Have you read?

Building trust in science

However, it is often difficult for scientists to do this for a broad range of reasons, not least that they are already under pressure to meet the requirements of current measures of research excellence.

This means we face a future where the breadth of scientific insight infusing policy-making falls short of its potential. We also face a future in which we do not have the diversity of viewpoints from the scientific community that is possible — and arguably necessary — to tackle the most difficult and complex challenges the world faces.

Reaching a place where this happens is not quick or easy. Building relationships takes time, is context-dependent, and often the impact of scientific insights and perspectives do not have a direct and measurable outcome.

To make progress, there needs to be a change in how we measure and reward scientific excellence. The DORA initiative and Project TARA have highlighted the challenge posed by relying on rigid and narrow metrics. Their work has started a global conversation about how to move forward. This conversation needs to continue, be championed and be afforded more airtime.

It is important that any conversation considers the impact of science in the real world in both direct and indirect ways, as well as how we can change the status quo and empower the next generation of scientists to be a part of the exchanges that lead to meaningful science-informed policy. This kind of conversation creates opportunities for science to be in the hands of those tasked with making the world a more sustainable and equitable place.

1 million scientists, 100 million hours

As World Economic Forum Young Scientists, we recognize the need for a generation of scientists who are able to build bridges beyond science and into policy. That is why we have issued a call that invites us all to take a systems view of this challenge:

If 1 million scientists, approximately 10% of the world’s active science population in public service, committed two hours per week to science engagement with and for society — about 5% of their working time — this would mean 100 million hours every year are dedicated to achieving science that engages meaningfully with policy and global decision-makers.

Those hours could catalyze a butterfly effect not only globally, but into the future.

We invite global and institutional leaders to consider if generating a dashboard for assessing excellence could help achieve this vision. A dashboard approach makes it possible to incorporate a broad range of outputs and recognize skills in synthesizing key scientific findings and insights for specific policy issues. It also makes it possible to tell the stories of that science in formats that are tailored to specific challenges, in the context of established networks and relationships.


What is the Young Scientists Community?

Diversity in the scientific community

Not all scientists need to develop or excel at these skills. Diversity is as important in science and the scientific community as it is in all other spaces and industries. As a scientific community, we recognize the value of complementarity, having scientists who are skilled communicators and engagers side by side with those adept at winning research funding, developing engaging and innovative teaching, entrepreneurship, and management.

Yet, if it is possible to encourage and enable scientists to explore and develop expertise in building bridges and fostering ongoing dialogue that engages with policy-makers, then we will undoubtedly be better equipped for future challenges.

We are calling on global institutions and leaders to consider the potential of a million scientists and 100 million hours for science in policy. We call on them to support this initiative, join the conversation, and be part of the change that is needed.

The full call is available here.

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