Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report

10 Communication

Research Community

71. The CCLRC uses a number of mechanisms to engage with its stakeholders, on overall strategy and on specific issues. It holds regular meetings with groups of users of different large facilities to discuss performance and development issues. There is also an annual meeting of all UK users of neutron, synchrotron and laser facilities to discuss policy and strategy. A separate consultation was held on the proposals for the CCLRC Strategic Plan. There are plans to produce position papers on specific topics such as a future neutron strategy in order to stimulate debate. These consultation exercises involve web based discussions, meetings and written submission.[145]

72. In spite of these efforts, not all parts of the research community feel involved in policy development. One witness argues that the user community was not consulted over Diamond or the second target station for ISIS and doubts whether under the new arrangements consultation would be any wider.[146] Some have complained of not being informed about the development of networks and partnerships and called for a system of advisory groups similar to the Technical Opportunities Panel (TOP) and User Panel (UP) used by EPSRC.[147] The Royal Academy of Engineering was disappointed to discover that out of 26 Fellows who contributed to its submission of evidence to us, 15 had either no knowledge or experience of engaging with the CCLRC.[148] We too find this somewhat surprising. The Institute of Physics reported concerns from research communities that rely on overseas facilities other than ILL and ESRF that the CCLRC was not addressing their needs.

73. We recognise the efforts being made to engage the use community by the CCLRC but believe that a more structured approach to engagement than the current ad hoc arrangements would be beneficial to the CCLRC and to users alike. In our EPSRC scrutiny inquiry we were impressed by the role played by TOP and UPs in identifying new research areas and advising on the needs of the community. We recommended that other Research Councils should consider setting up similar bodies.[149] The CCLRC would seem to be a prime candidate. An inclusive user group for each major facility would provide a useful means of structured engagement and consistent feedback. Such groups could also be consulted directly by RCUK in developing strategic advice. We recommend that the CCLRC establish user groups for each major facility in order to obtain the views of the relevant research communities on the operation and development of its facilities.

A new name

74. Part of the reason why the CCLRC remains relatively unknown to Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering, industry and the public may lie with its name. "The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils" is not informative, memorable nor accurate. We heard that this issue has been considered by Professor Wood and his staff but a suitable alternative name had proved elusive. Professor Wood thought that they had to be called a Research Council.[150] We do not see why, as the principle function of the organisation is to manage facilities rather than to award grants like the other Research Councils. We recommend that the CCLRC redoubles its efforts to come up with name that more accurately reflects its mission and functions. The Research Facilities Council would be an improvement.

Science in Society

75. Since April 2003, the CCLRC has had responsibility for developing programmes to use its facilities to promote public engagement in research undertaken using them. The first major project intended to deliver a CD-ROM to every school in the UK in spring 2004 to support the teaching of the "Ideas and Evidence" strand of the new national curriculum Key Stage 3 Science strategy. This project has subsequently been delayed to allow it to be "re-scoped to include additional material" and is now due to be competed on 25 June. We have seen some of the facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and were impressed by the breadth of the work going on there and the enthusiasm of the staff. Properly explained and demonstrated, there is no doubt that the facilities there offer a huge potential for engaging young people in particular with the attractions of studying science. The CCLRC runs visits for school children and links with centres for excellence in science education across the country.[151] But expenditure on this type of activity is much lower than that of similar organisations abroad.[152] This is partly because the CCLRC receives no funding specifically for public engagement activity. Professor Wood thought that this was not right.[153] We agree.

76. Other Research Councils each allocate between £1-2.15 million per annum to public engagement with science activities. Many such activities are held in conjunction with fellow Research Councils and RCUK, which disseminates some guidance on public engagement. However, there is as yet little in the way of a co-ordinated public engagement strategy. The OST is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations of the BA Science in Society report it commissioned. These include the establishment of a comprehensive database of science in society activities, regular national surveys and the production of guidelines on evaluating public engagement activities. We welcome these initiatives and trust that the CCLRC will play a full part in contributing to and learning from the OST's current activities. In order to do so convincingly, it will need to allocate funding specifically for this purpose. We recommend that future bids for funding by CCLRC include a sum of up to £1 million per annum for public engagement activities.

145   Ev 21, paras 29-31; Q 78 Back

146   Ev 52 Back

147   Ev 32 Back

148   Ev 33 Back

149   Ninth Report of Session 2002-03, The Work of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, HC 936, para 29  Back

150   Q 115 Back

151   Q 106 Back

152   Q 107 Back

153   Q 106 Back

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