Martin Smith (Specialist, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee) invites you to check the evidence behind three new policy areas announced today.
In true scientific fashion, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recently been experimenting with a new approach to its work. Today it has published a set of Government statements on driverless cars, GM and gene editing, and smart cities. In each case, Ministers were asked to set out their policy—and the evidence behind it—so that it can be publicly scrutinised through a process known as ‘Evidence Check‘.
It’s a slightly different way of working for a select committee. Normally the Government’s written submission to an inquiry arrives at the same time as others are sending their own, and there’s less of an opportunity for contributors to get together to build on each other’s comments and criticisms. Evidence Check turns this around—the Government’s statement on its evidence base is published upfront for all to see, and the forum supports an iterative discussion of its strengths and weaknesses.
Evidence is always at the heart of a parliamentary select committee’s work, but this approach puts the focus squarely on what research the Government has used to inform its thinking. The Committee can then use the forum comments to help decide which issues to focus on when scrutinising the Government. Last week, the Committee launched an inquiry into smart meters following earlier discussion on an evidence check forum, and we hope that the community will be keen to help identify issues in the three new areas launched today.
Evidence Check also starts to lift the lid on the Government’s general approach to using evidence in its policymaking. Is inconvenient evidence ignored? Does the Government understand the problems it is trying to solve through its policymaking? What does the Government think ‘counts’ as evidence? Publishing these statements starts to shed some light onto these questions, and more. The Committee’s work draws on the ‘Show Your Workings’ report by the Institute for Government with the Alliance for Useful Evidence and Sense About Science, which provides a framework for assessing the transparency of the evidence provided. Combining that with comments from experts will ensure that the Government is held to account.
So now is your chance to query the evidence that’s steering driverless cars, to check whether the Government is editing the evidence on GM, and discuss whether there’ll be an intelligent approach to smart cities. The forums are open now, and I hope as many people as possible will engage with the process to help make our experiment a success. There’s no petri dishes involved, but we’re hoping something exciting will grow.
Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.