Parliamentary Partnerships: From lab bench to back bench
Glasgow MP welcomed CGEM health data scientist to Parliament in Royal Society pairing scheme. April 2019
Dr Mairead Bermingham from the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine (CGEM) swapped a super-computer for legislation when she visited Carol Monaghan MP for Glasgow North at the House of Commons for a week in November 2018, as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme. The scheme, which started in 2001, aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK. To date, 456 scientists, 188 MPs, 9 Peers and 151 Civil Servants have taken part
Taking place annually, the scheme pairs around 30 scientists with UK parliamentarians and civil servants, with a view to facilitating interactions and mutual understanding between researchers and policymakers. Over the ‘Week in Westminster’, the scientists take part in workshops focused on the interface of science with policy, hear from expert speakers drawn from academia, learned societies and government, and spend two days shadowing their pair in government. In turn, parliamentarians and civil servants experience the world of research through undertaking reciprocal visits to the scientists’ institutions.
Mairead was amongst 28 scientists from academia and industry chosen to participate in the scheme this year who were paired with 13 civil servants, 13 members of parliament (MPs) and two members of the House of Lords to learn how Parliament works and how science can influence policy. Mairead was paired with Carol Monaghan MP, Member for Glasgow North West and member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. Other parliamentarians participating this year included Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Member for North Norfolk, and Lord Fox, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
Mairead was invited to shadow Carol for her daily engagements at the House of Commons, including a mass lobby and Prime Minister's Questions. As well as attending seminars and panel discussions about how evidence is used in policy making, while in Westminster Mairead also attended a mock Select Committee. The visit provided a behind the scenes insight into how policy is formed and how research can be used to make evidence based decisions. It also gave MP Monaghan the opportunity to investigate the science behind decisions and improve her access to scientific evidence.
I was thrilled to be given an insider's view as to how Parliament works on a daily basis through attending committees, Prime Minister's Questions, and shadowing MP Monaghan. Many societal problems, in particular population health must be addressed at the policy level. Taking part in the pairing scheme has taught me how research evidence can be presented to parliamentarians, and used to inform their policymaking in order to solve these issues and improve people's lives.
Carol will get hands on experience of Mairead’s research, which focuses on identifying lifestyle, socioeconomic, behaviour and genetic determinants of age related disease, such as gum, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and developing computational tools that determine if these factors can be used to improve population health and care services in a reciprocal visit to the IGMM on the 18th of April 2019.
As a scientist myself, I am too aware of the lack of scientific representation at parliament. This scheme is an excellent opportunity for both scientists and parliamentarians to gain an understanding of each other’s roles. I hope that through schemes like this, parliamentarians become more aware of the scientific voice, and weight evidence appropriately in their decision making.
You can learn more about Mairead’s experience on her University of Edinburgh’s Blog.
Further information about the Royal Society pairing scheme, as well as case studies, can be found at the following link: http://royalsociety.org/training/pairing-scheme/.