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From programming to policy

Posted on 24 February 2020

Dr Jon Agirre takes part in the Royal Society Pairing Scheme 2020.

Dr Jon Agirre from the Department of Chemistry will swap programming for policymaking when he visits the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall next month. Dr Agirre will be at Westminster from 1 - 5 March as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science – with support from the Government Office of Science.

During his visit, Dr Agirre will shadow Catherine Harold, Defra Deputy Director for Future Animal and  Plant Health, Endemics and Traceability and learn about her work. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policymaking, Dr Agirre will also attend a mock Select Committee.

The visit will provide Dr Agirre with a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how his research can be used to make evidence-based decisions. It will also give Catherine Harold the opportunity to investigate the science behind her decisions and improve their access to scientific evidence.

Dr Agirre said:As a scientist, it is part of my social contract to engage with society. Policy design is one area where a disconnection between the making of science and the prioritisation of science can hold society back. I want to know more about the bigger picture – policy design, discussion and approval, and to be able to identify areas where my input could make a difference in the future.”

During her visit to the Department of Chemistry, Catherine Harold will see how computer programmes are created to help model and understand the atomic structures of sugars to help unlock better medicines and more efficient biofuels. 

Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “It is crucial that we invest in the relationship between scientists and politicians so that either profession can articulate and appreciate the pressures confronted by both. 

“The Royal Society Pairing Scheme does just this, endowing scientists with a fascinating insight into parliament, and connecting policymakers with the best innovative thinking in the world, and in the process, enabling both to draw from and engage with the mutual expertise needed to address the challenges of our time.”

The Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK.