Recently in Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks Category

desk and computer How do 'evidence' and 'policy' fit together? It's one thing to hope the evidence will tell us what to do; it's another to persuade everyone else that the logic of how to resolve a given situation is so compelling. Evidence-based policies are a great idea; but different people ask for different sorts of evidence. And policy makers can only deliver what electors will accept. There's a dialogue challenge here somewhere.

Political Process & Democracy

We all know that public policies these days 'should' be based on evidence; but I'm not clear about when and how the full might of rational thought is best brought into the public policy arena. We seem sometimes to have mislaid the 'politics' part of 'policy', in our reliance on 'the evidence'....

The logic of the evidence
Scientists and researchers in areas where policy is being developed frequently tell us all that their evidence points this way, or that way, and I have no doubt that in their minds this is so.

I don't however recall, ever, hearing one of these very well-informed and rational observers reflect on whether the way forward they propose is actually understood or acceptable to the public who will be paying for the implementation of the policy.

The art of the possible
It's a cliché, but true, that politics is the art of the possible; the evidence base may be pristinely rational and logical. People, on the other hand, are not.

If we really want to see decent and well-founded changes in policy, 'the evidence' has to lie alongside what we can reasonably expect our policy-makers to deliver, in the pragmatic contexts of public understanding and mood.

Communicating findings
Perhaps we should find routine ways to use 'the evidence' to inform real dialogue and debate, not to jump straight to policy.

This is likely to happen only when more scientists and researchers start to communicate on a human level, and not just as rational-legal beings. Maybe research has to become a communicated art, as well as a science, if it's to be really, really useful where it matters.

Changing how we do things
Perhaps scientists need (in general) to learn more about the art of communicating.

Perhaps policy-makers need to learn more about how to explain that research must actively address what at any given time is possible, as well as what's best in an ideal, rational world.

And perhaps the rest of us have to understand that sometimes we need to move from what 'they' should be doing on our behalf , to what we ourselves can do to help each other see where evidence best fits into the very human process of decision-making and change.

A version of this article was first published as a blog in New Start magazine on 14 July 2009.


Read more articles about Political Process & Democracy. and see Hilary's Publications.

Salford MSc Sociology as a discipline in the UK was shaping up during the 1960s; but there was still an air of mystery about the whole thing when I chose to study it. There was no clear role model on which to base expectations. The discipline has however served me well ever since. For most of my working life I've been what might be called a Jobbing Sociologist. This is a version of the account I gave of my interwoven personal and professional experience, writing for the British Sociological Association's 'Sociologists Outside Academia' newsletter, published today.

Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women.

1968 remains an iconic year for many. For some it represents a time of dramatic change preceding one’s own individual history, for others it was the start of a new way for us all to see the world.

But for me, 1968 was the point where the personal really hit the political-professional – the year I finished being a teenager and abandoned plans to be a natural scientist or a coloratura soprano (I’d tried both), and the year I got married and then enrolled for a degree in the most daring and mysterious subject I could think of: Sociology.

Realities
Needless to say, people opined that it would never last; but truth to tell my heart has stayed on both counts where I put it so long ago, and on many levels the two have interwoven over and over again as time marches on. Allies older and new will confirm that I’ve never been less than a fully paid-up feminist, but hard realities can sometimes get in the way of the more seductive theories of autonomy and self-determination.

My personal journey from undergraduate social science in the Nissen huts of the then North East London Polytechnic, to a freelance career as a writer and regeneration / sustainable communities consultant, via research and teaching Sociology and Social Policy in various institutions of Further and Higher Education and a decade of temporary ill-health ‘retirement’ when community activism was the only way to mitigate the tedium of physical immobility, has been part-moulded by my life as a spouse, mother, daughter, citizen and wage-earner. And I regret not a minute of it.

Following careers
I started my career in Sociology in London, because the Royal Academy of Music is where putative violinists such as my other half studied; we moved to Liverpool when he was appointed a member – as he still is - of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; I undertook my Master’s (Sociology of Science and Technology, 1973; the first serious piece of research on women scientists in the UK) at Salford, because by a miracle the (then very unusual) exact course I wanted was accessible from our new home city; my PGCE was at Liverpool, so every morning before lectures I could take our baby daughter to nursery.

Having been forced (just pre-1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act) to leave my original FE teaching post when I started a family, I taught the new Open University distance courses at home whilst also sewing in pre-school name tapes, and then returned to teach 'O' and 'A'-levels to many engaging young and older college students alongside checking juvenile homework. Later, I wrote the first-ever Sociology Access-to-HE modules, and academic papers and book chapters on aspects of Sociology. For some years I was (unpaid) commissioning editor for the journal Social Science Teacher, working from my prototype Amstrad computer.

Getting involved
I was also an active member of the British Sociological Association (BSA) Executive Committee, instigating the organisation, FACTASS (Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences), which eventually saw off the Margaret Thatcher-Keith Joseph proposal effectively to remove any notions of personal, health, social and civic education (PHSCE) from the school curriculum: ‘History finishes at 1945’ .... Oh no, it doesn’t, not if you’re teaching a decent school curriculum.

And as we all debated in those difficult times, I was learning for real how the prism of Sociology can offer a focus and analysis which rarely fails to stimulate or challenge.

Work experience
Early on, I was a social worker in Liverpool’s dire council estates, and briefly a youth worker; later I was Research Associate in teenage pregnancy at Liverpool Medical School, and then Head of Health and Social Care at a Merseyside FE college. And in the 1980s and ‘90s I had to take several years out of employment with severe arthritis; so I learnt first hand to cope with illness and disability (which much illuminated my later work as an NHS Trust Non-Executive Director and as a Lay Partner of the Health Professions Council) alongside how, as a volunteer and political activist, to lobby for arts and community organisations, so finding my way into the local and regional centres of decision-making.

Eventually from that arose the initiative to regenerate the area in Liverpool I designated as Hope Street Quarter – and thereby my re-involvement in the whole sustainable development agenda, on a very different basis from when my 1970s membership of Friends of the Earth and Scientists Against Nuclear Arms had been seen as almost subversive. Being Vice-Chair of the North West (region of England) Sustainable Development Group, and a Non-Executive Director and Equality and Diversity Champion of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, are pretty respectable activities.

Widening the portfolio
And in the meantime I have undertaken independent consultancies on Sure Start and local authority Youth Services, helping to realign public service provision; I’m working with Muslim colleagues on a mosque project to engage disaffected young people, and to establish a Foundation for the inspiring black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. I’ve spent three fascinating years as Lay Member of the Defra Science Advisory Council (actually working in the corridors of power of which C.P. Snow wrote so compellingly, not long before I went to Salford all those years ago).

I’m currently teaching practitioners about sustainable communities online for the Homes and Communities Agency Academy; I’ve addressed conferences on my take on regional science and the new knowledge economy (‘Knowledge is like water – it flows where it can...’). I write and am a referee for regeneration journals; I have a very active website; plus I suspect I’m about to become the author of a book on communicating to achieve grounded sustainability.

The personal and the professional
So many hours on trains with the laptop, so much still to do; and now delightful Grandma duties too. My personal life trajectory has always and indelibly framed the professional one, but how else could it have been?

Free-lancing as a social scientist isn’t an easy way to earn a living, but I don’t think that’s the point. Knowledge may be like water, but sociological analysis is pure crystal. It sharpens perceptions and illuminates the social world. That’s invaluable in innumerable ways, not least as a consultant-practitioner and enabler of progressive social change.


This article was first published in the British Sociological Association's newsletter for its Sociologists Outside Academia group: Sociology for All, Issue No. 7 (Summer 2009).

Read more articles about Pre-History / HerStory (1950-), Social Science and Gender & Women, and see Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks.

Josephine Butler House Liverpool, ruined Josephine Butler House in Liverpool's Hope Street Quarter is named for the famous social reformer, and the site of the first UK Radium Institute. Latterly an elegant adjunct to Myrtle Street's The Symphony apartments, it sits opposite the Philharmonic Hall. But the intended ambiance has been ruined by a dismal failure and omission on the part of Liverpool City Council, who have permitted Josephine Butler House to be grimly defaced with little prospect of anything better, or even just intact, taking its place.

Liverpool & Merseyside, The Future Of Liverpool and Regeneration.

The Symphony, previously part of the City of Liverpool College of Further Education portfolio (and before that, the Liverpool Eye, Ear & Throat Infirmary), is a newly restored apartment block immediately opposite Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall. It is elegantly refurbished by Downing Developments and adds an attractive dimension to city centre living in Liverpool's historic Hope Street Quarter.

View of The Symphony from Liverpool Philharmonic Hall,  Myrtle Street Liverpool

But just a year ago this weekend (i.e. in the first few days of March 2008) residents of those apartments saw tarpaulin raised around their neighbouring building, the historic Josephine Butler House, home to the UK's first Radium Institute (which is celebrated in the Liverpool 'Suitcases' Hope Street / Mount Street sculptures) and named after the social pioneer whom Millicent Fawcett described as “the most distinguished woman of the Nineteenth Century".

Josephine Butler (1828 -1906) was an extraordinarily accomplished British social reformer, who had a major role in improving conditions for women in education and public health. She moved to Liverpool in 1866, when her husband, the academic George Butler, became headmaster of Liverpool College. Much of her work derived its inspiration from the death of their young daughter, and she has a national library, a collection at Liverpool University, an educational institution and a charitable trust named for her. Her life and work is also celebrated locally in the Suitcases ('A Case Study') public art installation a block up the road on the Hope Street / Mount Street junction in Liverpool.

Josephine Butler House with tarpaulin

So what followed after the Josephine Butler House was swathed in tarpaulin was almost beyond belief - with just days to go before a formal enquiry, Maghull Developments, who had recently acquired Josephine Butler House in partnership with the previous owners, Liverpool John Moores University, took hammers to its entire street-facing facade.

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool , Myrtle Street facing facade ruined

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool, Hope Street facing wall ruined

The Liverpool Daily Post reported Maghull Developments in March 2008 as saying, nonetheless, that the work under wraps on the frontage was “specialist restoration work to the stone facade” - a claim which is difficult to reconcile with the still intact stonework of the Stowell Street side of the building, unblemished to this day:

Josephine Butler House Liverpool, Stowell Street side wall, intact

But if the City Council had amended their omission, as many times requested, to include this corner of Hope Street in the Conservation Area, they could have protected the entire historic location at a stroke.

The plans for the Josephine Butler House site had been in considerable contention even before these extraordinary events. There were public meetings and demands that proposals be returned to the drawing board because they were adjudged inappropriate for Hope Street Quarter - Liverpool's cultural quarter, the home of the city's two cathedrals, its two largest universities, its internationally recognised orchestra and several theatres, and a critically important gateway into the city centre.

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool, ruined ; next door to The Symphony

A comment, at the time of the 'specialist restoration', from Liverpool City Council's elected environment portfolio holder, says it all:

Why would they restore the stone facade when they are planning to knock the building down? Don’t treat us like we are dim.
The building is an intrinsic part of what makes Hope Street so special, but there’s very little the council can do short of me sleeping under the scaffolding.

So much for the 'legacy' of Liverpool's status as 2008 European Capital of Culture.

What worries some of us is not even just that the Josephine Butler scaffolding has now long disappeared and the damage surely done.

It's that, in brutal fact, the prospect of any action on the Josephine Butler site - beyond perhaps demolition to become a car park? - looks itself from where we sit to be exceedingly dim; and that the whole City Council seems still to be asleep on the job.

Josephine Butler House Car Park Liverpool (corner of Hope Street & Myrtle Street)

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool defaced


[PS This sad saga was taken up by Ed Vulliamy in The Observer of 20 March 2009, in an article entitled How dare they do this to my Liverpool.. There is also a prolonged debate about Josephine Butler House on the website SkyscraperCity.

An updated version of this article (here) was published on the Liverpool Confidential website, on 22 April 2009.]

See more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside and read more about The Future Of Liverpool and Regeneration.

violin, amplifier & briefcase The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city - including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool's creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and 'non-arts' businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.

Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members' Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool's creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the "Liverpool Chamber" magazine:


We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.

It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.

Momentum unsecure?
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.

So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.

New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.

This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.

Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool.... and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.

A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.

Hilary Burrage
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee

A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of "Liverpool Chamber", the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008 Liverpool has made much of its community engagement programme during the city's European Capital of Culture year, in 2008. But when does engagement become genuine social inclusion? And does inclusion require empowerment as well as contact? Or is the underlying emphasis on increasing tourism to bolster the local economy enough? This is where opinion in the city divides.

Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool

Great claims have been made for community inclusion during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year; indeed, it’s sometimes been hard to identify the ‘European’ element at all, in all the local leadership talk of community embedding and power to the people.

Not all of this is bluff. The Liverpool Culture Company has fielded a team of arts educators and animateurs who have worked hard to produce some imaginative and significant projects, and for that we must congratulate them. Likewise, another team has taken forward work on arts and health, for which substantial success is claimed.

Engagement, inclusion or empowerment?
But when does a degree of engagement become genuine social inclusion? Does inclusion require social empowerment as well as contact? This is where opinion diverges.

For our city leaders, the brightly coloured photographs of smiling children and milling crowds are enough. How much more evidence of ‘inclusion’ do you want?

Bottom up, or top down?
But for some of us, the evidence that real inclusion has been achieved remains patchy. No-one wants to decry some good work which Culture Company teams have delivered; but why wait for 2008 to develop a meaningful culture and health programme, in a city right at the bottom of the well-being league? And is ‘top down’ delivery, determined at high command, as inclusive as the more difficult ‘bottom up’ sort?

It is not Liverpool’s own community arts which received the biggest budgets in 2008. Vast ephemeral ‘events’ have scooped up massive sums, whilst many indigenous local artists outside the Culture Company have had to scramble between themselves, often to ridiculous and shifting deadlines, for a few thousand or even less here and there.

Tourism as the main rationale
Of course the Culture Company have their problems; but arts practitioners who were there before and must carry on afterwards arguably face greater challenges. Their work to be inclusive is geared to much more than large public ‘events’ which have – let us be honest – an increase in tourism as their main rationale.

It’s this which worries me. I’d like the city to treat me as a grown up. If they want to pursue hotel bed counts all out, could they please say so? Could they perhaps say, we know the public events we’re offering are not truly inclusive – you can come and have a bit of fun if you want, and that’s about it – but we need to do it this way, to improve Liverpool’s economic base for everyone’s future wellbeing....?

A focus on the bottom line
Spelling things out like this would emphasise how hard we must all work, to improve the local economy – more skills, no poor service, no attitude.

It would help community arts practitioners understand why their locally focused efforts currently feel less valued than the big event spectaculars.

Treating citizens as grown-ups
And it would say to local citizens, thanks for turning up, we hope you’ve enjoyed the big splashes, and, when all the tourist destination marketing has worked, we will indeed be able to support more genuinely embedded opportunities on your own terms for exciting, local, bottom-up creative and cultural activity.

Now, those messages really would demonstrate that the relationship between Liverpool’s decision-makers and its citizens has become adult and consciously inclusive.


A version of this article first appeared in New Start magazine, January 2009.


Read more articles about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

08.09.04 La Machine [The Liverpool Spider named La Princesse] La Princesse, a gigantic metal spider, came to Liverpool in early September 2008. This monster brought huge crowds to the city centre, as it enacted its story of 'scientists' and adventure. But the reasoning behind The Spider was no fairy tale. It was there to attract 'cultural tourism' business to the city. At almost two million pounds, one hopes this was a success. Whether the same can be said for the rational that it engaged people in 'culture' is less certain: at some point real cultural engagement surely also involves empowerment.

Few people will not know that Liverpool, in the early Autumn of its European Capital of Culture 2008 year, has been visited by a Big Spider.

This ‘creature’ (for some indiscernible reason named La Princesse) was constructed entirely of metal, wood and bits of hydraulic and was, it is said, fifty feet high. It paraded in the city centre over the first weekend of September 2008, ‘acting’ out a storyline involving ‘scientists’ who had to do ‘experiments’ to control the gigantic techno-insect.

A European connection
A direct descendant of the Sultan’s Elephant (which suddenly appeared in London in May 2006), another construction from the company La Machine, this creation cost even more – apparently something under £2 million. In both cases considerable sums will have gone into the coffers of the French business which built these monster artefacts.... which by their genesis at least bring a much-needed ‘European’ angle to our singularly Scouse Capital of Culture 2008 activities.

And it is worrying to learn from Artichoke, the UK company which brought the machines to Britain, that there was a serious shortfall in anticipated budget (the sum of £300k to £400K has been suggested). Indeed, a charitable appeal was put out to plug the gap.

Arts budget shortfalls and sensible audits?
What, I wonder, would happen if smaller, less publicly vaunted, arts organisations had proportionately similar shortfalls? And if they started from the premise that they could keep the arrangements to themselves, feeling no pressing need to be particularly transparent about anticipated ‘audience’ numbers, budgets, impacts or outcomes?

I ask this as a volunteer community arts promoter threatened last year with the withholding of one thousand pounds from the munificent five thousand promised (our total budget was around £18,000), simply because of a genuine mistake by a single supplier involving very considerably less than just one pound – and which it took many weeks of my (and others’) unpaid time, as well as hours of city employee activity, to resolve.

Proportionality
Which Council officials, I must enquire, have time and salaried capacity to pursue relentlessly a sum amounting to the cost of one postage stamp? (If nothing else, we can now see that corporately they really don’t understand proportionality in accounting.)

Are these the same people who seem happy to permit the continuation of their own projects when over-running by six figures (predictably, since some – how much? - of this was attributed to the fall of the pound against the Euro)? Perhaps La Princesse should be renamed La Suprise.

The rationale: cultural tourism
It might seem here as though I’ve lost the point of what La Machine’s creations are ‘for’. But I don’t think so. The Spider was and remains at its metal heart a vehicle for marketing and tourism; and perhaps also a justification for the self-laudatory outpourings by the powers-that-be which those of us who live in the city encounter on a daily basis from our local media.

But using ‘art’ promotionally is not an especially Liverpool activity. It happens everywhere, from Glasgow to Vienna to South America; just think of the previous UK European Capital of Culture, or the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Andean statue of Christ the Redeemer. Very different ‘arts’, but given in the modern world (if not in origin) the same message and intent.

Marketing becomes the meaning
What bothers me is when the one and only meaning of an art(efact) is the marketing message.

Our Austrian orchestra and South American statue began in very different ways – one started in 1842 as a celebration of the great tradition of European classical music, and the other as a celebration (in 1904) of a peace treaty between Argentina and Chile, bickering over their national boundaries. Only subsequently have these cultural icons become brilliant marketing tools.

Different 'rules' for different ventures?
So here’s the rub: whilst perforce relatively junior local government officers were (a) assiduously trying to delay – we can all guess why - the payment of the final grand of the magnificent ‘funding’ allotted to my hard-working on-the-ground arts charity and (b) ignoring equally assiduously (they had to) my remonstrations that this sort of behaviour is exactly why many ‘in the community’ give up and walk away from delivering grassroots community arts and cultural activities, other more senior officers were short-cutting to hugely expensive ‘projects’ which amount to a cross between the disneyesque and hard-sell.... which they then self-declare to have been a massive success even before it’s all finished. QED.

I don’t, as it happens, mind spectacle and fun; entertainment in the right places is great. But entertainment is just not the same as real engagement.

Community engagement
Community engagement in the arts doesn’t ‘hand down’ from on high, it nurtures reaching up and out. It is both responsive and self-determining, a laborious (but never boring) process, building slowly on trust and developing each individual’s confidence and skills, both as a performer / practitioner and as an appreciative perceiver of the art/s on offer.

You have to believe in people for the longer term to be a really good community arts practitioner. You have to understand the skills which other artists – not just in your own genre, but across the whole spectrum - and partners bring to whatever you’re doing. You have to be, quietly, really good yourself at what you’re hoping to engage others in also.

Challenge and aspiration
And, even more quietly, you have to be willing to challenge the people ‘in the community’ with whom you’re working; not in a know-it-all way, but in the sense that you are privileged to have seen in the wider world how well things can be done when real effort is made, and you would like that to be reflected in how those you are collaborating with approach their chosen tasks.

No genuine artist ever thinks (s)he couldn’t do even better. ‘The best’ is at the bottom of the rainbow. All any of us can do is aspire.

The Spider's legacy
I’m not at all sure The Spider achieved much in these lights. Its impacts will (I hope) be revealed later. But did it challenge and focus anyone? Did it leave a message for the people of Liverpool? Will it somehow still do so, if plans for its return to the city are confirmed? Only, I think, if there’s a lot more debate between then and now about how to encourage local people, in ‘the community’, to see that as yet we all have plenty of scope for delivering even better what is good about our city.

And in the meantime, small arts enterprises such as my own try to stagger on, largely sidelined and called to account in really silly ways, far more often (however much some of them might like to) than we are actively helped, supported and appreciated by the powers-that-be.

To be truthful, I suspect both that most of those in charge (not of course all – there are some very decent and reality-based people too) have no experience of struggling at the grassroots, and that people who do work on the ground are simply not a part of the high level strategic landscape.

Pre-packaged for 'the community'
The real decision makers often talk about ‘the community’, but this in their understanding is something to be done unto, to be delivered predetermined culture in predetermined ways.

Rarely is this ‘community’ seen as hugely complex and nuanced (infinitely more nuanced than the standard ‘community’ cultural stereotypes), encompassing many possible ways of contributing to, developing and appreciating arts and culture of all sorts. But it takes time, resources, effort, belief and courage on all sides to get there.

Engaging, or just entertaining?
How much easier – as those amongst cultural managers who are genuinely community-facing will confirm - to deliver a pre-packaged monster spider, than to work patiently for days, weeks or months with the people it has been decreed ultimately will pay for it, to produce something wondrous of their own. Too many of those at ‘the top’ would, if they gave it a thought, have no idea how they could actually help here, anyway.

For me personally that doesn’t matter. I have other quite different things to think about as well, and I didn’t go into this for the bouquets. But if recent experiences were my first or only way of engaging through culture with the city in which I have lived for many years, I would be thoroughly downhearted.

Imagination and vision
‘Real’ art and culture captures the imagination and, in so doing, enables people to see things which they didn’t perceive before. Maybe La Princesse fleetingly did the first; but I haven’t seen much evidence that it does the second. And for roughly the same amount of money as the cost of the European arachnid, we could undertake programmes the same size as my own charity’s single venture in every ward of the city, ‘engaging’ hundreds of people directly and truly meaningfully on each and every occasion.

To keep this member of the local ‘community’ happy, the hard-edged longer-term marketing outcomes for Liverpool from La Machine had better be pretty spectacular.


A version of this article first appeared in a-n magazine, December 2008.

Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

08.12.05 Architectural Association, Bedford Square, London The Architectural Association, London hosted a debate on Friday 5 December '08 about Liverpool. Consequent upon the issue of Architectural Review earlier in the year about that city, the speakers at this seminar were asked by architect Brian Hatton, a staff lecturer at the AA, to consider whether Liverpool has experienced a Cultural Turn. The article which follows is a version of my contribution to this debate.

Just hours after I’d started serious work on this piece, the following announcement appeared in Liverpool newspapers: ‘Like many local councils,’ it said,’... we face [in 2009] a budget gap despite making efficiency savings of over £44 million in the last 3 years alone. As a council, we are committed to empowering residents [so...] we are asking local residents and our partners where they think we should prioritise our spending...’

Coming at the end of the extraordinary European Capital of Culture year in Liverpool’s already very one-off history, here is a conundrum indeed. What are we to make of a situation in which the money has run out – and, Oh My, in Liverpool how has it run out! – and yet only now are we being ‘empowered’ to say how to spend the pittance available for next year?

‘Empowering residents’ is a great idea. But in the contexts of discussion of Liverpool’s Cultural Turn, exploration of this sort of empowerment probably raises many more questions than, at least initially, it resolves.

Cultural turn as re-orientation
My position – as an enthusiast for both urban renaissance and the arts and culture, and as a long-time Liverpool resident - is this:

The context of cultural turn suggests a re-orientation. ‘Culture’ can mean either things artistic, or things which concern shared social constructions or understanding.

Either way, cultural shift supposes that an idea, situation or strategy has changed in some fundamental way: that there is a shift in emphasis towards a greater insight about what’s happening, or a refocus of emphasis so we begin to see things in a different light.

Has this happened in Liverpool as we approach the end of our Great Year? As things stand, I’m not sure that it has.

At best, the jury is still out. The things which that jury should be considering – and why - will comprise most of the rest of this paper.

The Leunig - Robertson 'Future of Liverpool' debate
A few weeks ago I attended the well publicised regeneration debate in Liverpool Cathedral, between Dr Tim Leunig and Prof. David Robertson.

Dr Leunig’s thesis, versions of which have caused considerable consternation in my part of the world, is, if I may parody a little, that bright and enterprising people should move down South. The South – and especially that hitech Golden Triangle of opportunity around London, Oxbridge and the M4/5 corridor– will then become so overheated that brave capitalists will wish once more to develop Oop North, perhaps almost from scratch.

As a strategy for attracting investment ‘in the regions’ this analysis has its drawbacks – not least that in the Leunig proposals local politicians would be expected to plan for population dispersal in way which would almost certainly lead to their summary dismissal by the electorate.

'The market' is not a given
And that’s before we even get to the critique, ably delivered by Professor Robertson and shared by many of us, that Tim Leunig’s analysis takes the invisible hand of the market as a given.

It seemed to us – despite his entreaty to planners across the nation to revisit housing plans and much else – that the UK economy had in the Leunig perception no central steer from government.

Where was the acknowledgement that all parts of the economy receive vast investment from public and other external funds – not to mention much in the way of legal and enabling frameworks?

Where was the reference to John Maynard Keynes and all who’ve followed him?

The past, as was said loud and clear during the Liverpool Cathedral debate, is not a reliable guide in rapidly changing times to the future.

Interventions occur, and opportunities emerge, in ways which few of us can predict - a fact on which Liverpool should perhaps reflect very carefully as we move to 2009.

All this was not however, for me at least, the most challenging part of the Liverpool economy debate.

Unpallatable home truths?
For me, the most critical issues were these:

Firstly, the Cathedral debate showed little disagreement between the protagonists on data.

In specifics, its scope and / or relevance was mildly contested, but the hard information was not what generated the heat in dialogue between the speakers, or indeed amongst the panel members who responded later.

Second, having briskly disposed of the weaknesses in his opponent’s position around government economic strategy, David Robertson took the opportunity to deliver some home truths about his city of residence.

Liverpool would not, he said – once more reflecting the view of many who have sat around the table debating these things – succeed as it might, even now, unless the local economic community moves on.

Self-delusion and self-aggrandisement are no longer options. We are no longer a truly premier, let alone a world-class, city.

And we cannot genuinely aspire for the future to be so, unless we first recognise this uncomfortable truth.

But my third observation is perhaps the most difficult.

True Scousers
The audience for the debate included many people I know well, hard working and very able professionals and community activists who have given much to their city and really want our renaissance to happen.

Several said later that they had been disappointed by the event.

And this was especially true of those who were born and bred in Liverpool, as opposed to the ‘newcomers’, who have lived and worked there for perhaps a mere thirty years.

None of us had wanted blood, but the True Scousers had hoped more by way of apology and remorse than Dr Leunig was able to offer. He had said he was genuinely sorry – and I believe him – that his version of the Truth had hurt and offended people.

But what most of his critics wanted, was that he fundamentally revise his views. And what they had also expected was a robust rebuttal by other speakers, with no caveats about how we could do better.

Liverpool as myth
This is where the Architectural Review’s special edition on Liverpool of earlier this year [2008] comes to bear.

In his contribution to this fascinating publication, Prof. David Dunster chose to consider ‘Liverpool’s powerful urban mythology and civic pride'. He argues, as here we do also, that Liverpool seems unable to get productively real.

As a collective, Liverpudlians cling desperately to a ‘reality’ which we readily acknowledge is actually no such thing. We vest our heritage in a couple of Liver Birds.

Of course we recognise the error of our ornithological analysis, just as we know there are no pots of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. But on the other hand, we protest, too defensively, that Oh Yes There Are.

And some of us also protest, too defensively, that it’s only other people – on the right and on the left, anyone who offers a critique - who are wrong, that there’s nothing needs to change about Liverpool: it’s just such a shame, in this narrative, that the city has been so poorly perceived elsewhere.

But even if this defensiveness rings true, where does it get us?

Why should architects, or analysts of culture, intent on regeneration, worry about the Liver Birds? What does it have to do with the Cultural Turn?

My answer, reluctantly, is, all too much.

Turning to tourism
Liverpool’s current cultural strategy, and to an extent its whole economic rationale, is, and has for some long time been, directed at tourism.

The city has invested much strategic energy in hotels and talk of ‘destinations’, and in budgetary terms during 2008 it has emphasised above almost all else the importance of large-scale outside events.

This summary analysis is of course too simple; far more has come to pass than that; but the claim contains a germ of truth.

We can all understand why this has happened.

Liverpool, as Professors Dunster and Robertson, and indeed many others, have said, cannot rely for the future on industry – which, Dr Leunig's longer-term analysis notwithstanding, is likely to stay largely elsewhere – or even on the sub-regional knowledge economy, should we actually manage to secure and develop this.

Nor can we rely any more than we already do on the public sector.

It may not, despite the commentary of many, be very much ‘too large’ for our demography; but we certainly won’t secure a sustainable future by developing it further.

So it follows that the economic activity which will most hold things together for Liverpool in the shorter term is the service sector.

And from that it also follows - because our own city region population has amongst the lowest per capita incomes in Britain - that we need tourists, preferably with quite a lot of money to spend.

Visitor attractions
So first we need to bang the drum, to light the fireworks, to deliver the spectaculars which catch the eye of those who have never before wanted to come and see us, let alone shower their hard-earned cash in our direction.

Hence, the position in which we now find ourselves.

There has been farce, there have been fantasticals, but somehow we’ve managed – and I speak as one in part on the inside looking out – largely to pull the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year off.

Other cities are keen to learn what we have done. Promising Olympic opportunities seem likely for some of those at the centre of our current activities.

Degrees of success
Why then the hesitation? Why not just heave a collective sigh of relief, enjoy, and move on?

Well, to some extent we can do exactly that.

There are arts practitioners at all levels of engagement across the city who have discovered hitherto hidden inner strengths – some in the face of adversity, some because they were nurtured and supported. We have important buildings and facilities which were not there a year or two ago.

We have engaged, if not captured, the attention of a lot of people outside Liverpool.

'Empowering' residents?
But have we cracked it?

I fear that recent little ad in the local newspapers does not bode well.

We as residents weren’t much asked how we wanted 2008 to pan out, but now the money’s spent, our views are invited.

The current recession obviously doesn’t help, but I guess that post-2008 was always going to be difficult for Liverpool. Cultural strategies alone were never going to be a magic cure.

We’ve now been asked to become ‘partners’ in what will probably be a very challenging year ahead.

I suspect that it’s what we can now do without, not what we’d really like, which forms at base the forthcoming agenda.

If this is ‘empowering residents’, it leaves me rather cold.

Cultural change
Which takes me back again to the prognostications of the Liverpool Architectural Review, to the recent Cathedral debate, and to the issue which started all this – our discussion about whether Liverpool is experiencing a Cultural Turn.

The analytical framework developed by Charles Landry shows there are many places large and small which, by whatever criteria, and howsoever termed, have experienced cultural turn.

These range from the solid grandeur of Vienna and its Hundertwasserhaus, through the second-hand bookselling mecca of Hay-on-Wye, to the less dramatic but nonetheless locally very significant reinvention, as a cultural and knowledge quarter, of Liverpool’s Hope Street – a matter in which I myself have had a hand, and which continues to challenge me and various colleagues even now.

I mention Hope Street – which is the thoroughfare linking our city’s two cathedrals - specifically because it is a critically important part of Liverpool.

As the main cultural and knowledge quarter, it probably has the greatest potential for economic development of any part of the Merseyside Liverpool sub-region.

Yet somehow it remains a side-show. Of course everyone agrees our theatres and orchestra are important; of course our universities are critical; but.... In the discourse of the city, there’s always a ‘but’.

What sort of cultural turn?
So it all depends what ‘sort’ of cultural turn we’re looking for.

Landry takes ‘cultural turn’ to mean a situation -

‘where culture is moving centre-stage for another reason when even economics and politics are culturally driven in manifold ways’.

Another writer in Wikipedia refers to the cultural turn as major element of the discipline of Cultural Studies -

developments in the humanities and social sciences brought about by various developments across the disciplines... it describes a shift in emphasis towards meaning and on culture rather than politics or economics... With the shift towards meaning, the importance of high arts and mass culture in cultural studies has declined. If culture was about things (a piece of art, a TV series), it is now more about processes and practices of meaning

and a different observer in Geocities links Market Society and the Cultural Turn

.. contemporary social theory has been increasingly concerned with the central role of cultural processes and institutions in organising and controlling the economic. This has been labelled by some the ‘cultural turn’ in social thought. The claim is that the economy itself, and the ‘things; which follow through it, is now largely constituted through informational and symbolic processes.... The very fact that markets are not natural events, but social ones implies that they are the results of meaningful human action, and employ cultural beliefs about human nature, social action and relationships. In this sense we need to think about economics and economic theory as culture....

And we can also find references which see it in different types of context, if we look to cultural turn in respect of the historical emergence of environmental issues and other matters.

It can be the ‘culture’ of a specific discipline or action set, as well as the ‘culture of culture’.

Economics, sustainability, knowledge, arts or people?
So are we thinking here about economics, about sustainability, about knowledge, about the arts, or about people?

To my mind the cultural turn which Liverpool now ‘needs’ must include all these dimensions.

What’s required of us as citizens of Liverpool is a deeply rooted change in our mindset about how things are going to work in the 21st century.

Culture as 'culture'
We need to take on the ‘cultural’ meaning of cultural turn – to value arts and culture of themselves as well as for what they can bring.

This cultural turn would help to refocus in a way which liberates the imagination and helps us move from a fixation on sad football rivalries; and indeed which would help us also to review the fixation with our maritime history.

Football, like the ports and also The Beatles, has been hugely formative for Liverpool, but they’re not collectively the whole of our future.

Culture as economic context
So we also need to move beyond the cultural sense of cultural turn, to a change in our understanding of Liverpool’s economic situation and contexts.

Like it or not, Manchester is as important for our future as the Mersey.

Skills – and knowing how to use them – are as important as spectaculars; but a lot less easy to deliver.

This sort of change and reorientation, as we all know, requires firm, insightful and inspired civic leadership – a feature not much noted in the local politic of my city.

Consensus and leadership
Evidence of consensus about how to move ourselves off the ‘bottom of the list’ in so many ways is difficult to find.

Local debate still rages over a number of physical features and plans for Liverpool. We need look only to the issues around the Liverpool port terminals and the ‘rights’ which some local people continue to claim, in defiance of economic progress, to walk as they wish along the riverbank.

The same applies to the reconstruction of that major highway approach to the city, Edge Lane and to those who continue to oppose it; or to the future location of Liverpool's two football clubs, or to many aspects of building conservation across Liverpool, that once-second city of the empire.

Sometimes justice, or at least logic, lies with one interest, sometimes with another.

Choices and consequences
But who is up there, spelling out choices and consequences in a voice which actually respects the concerns and commitment of local people, whilst also offering a wider view?

In other words, who is working to bring about the really essential sort of cultural turn?

Who is, to return to our little ad in the newspaper, ‘empowering residents’ in the true sense of providing a cultural climate in which the real options for our future can be debated constructively?

Sadly, almost no-one.

Supporting change for the better
True leadership is not passing the buck, or simply shouting from the front.

It is moving beyond defensiveness, and taking people with you on the basis of open discussion, after they have been helped to understand all the issues.

Getting people to see the bigger picture, and the options which arise from this, is probably the most important thing which Liverpool’s local leaders could do, if they truly want to secure Liverpool’s future for her citizens.

Looking at the detail
Specifics are however also important.

We have during 2008 moved a little way towards the ‘cultural’ ‘cultural turn’, in the sense described by Charles Landry.

The Liverpool Biennial and other events have sparked a greater interest in public space and what we should be doing in it.

The developments along Edge Lane, despite many delays, have encompassed a real physical base for information technology and other creative industries:

Liverpool is becoming a genuinely global hub for developing computer games.

To whatever extent, these developments as such (if not always their locations) are generally perceived as benign, or sometimes as really positive.

Dissenting as residents
But as Landry himself notes, there are other aspects of our city’s development which have been judged more harshly by its residents.

Liverpool's Albert Dock renewal has at times been amongst these.

This facility, which includes museums and Tate Liverpool, has brought the historic docks back into use as a venue for tourists and cultural visitors.

It has more recently been connected to the city centre by the new and vastly ambitious Liverpool 1 retail, commercial and mixed use development, and it also now connects to the challenged ‘donut’ around the southern inner city, via the new Liverpool BT Conference Centre and the Liverpool Echo Arena.

But still it stands aside from the experience of many hardened locals, who may enjoy the odd spectacular in the Arena or on the waterside, but deep-down still see the area as ‘for tourists’, rather than as an opportunity for more local jobs.

The knowledge quarter
Similar considerations, in a different way, apply to Hope Street.

Liverpudlians one and all agree that Hope Street’s cultural offer is important, just as they agree the universities to each side of that street are critical.

But for the most part they also think that what goes on in these august institutions has little to do with them.

Perhaps there’s a touch less defensivenesss now, but still we hear murmurs in places which matter about ‘elitism’, when really we should be hearing about achievement and excellence.

Regenerational drivers
The Albert Dock and Hope Street are major regenerational drivers for the future, but they remain – both physically and metaphorically - at the margins of Liverpool’s ambitions to be reborn.

So at best, to date, there’s only mixed evidence of the sort of fundamental change in the city’s psyche which would empower Liverpool to face the twenty-first century with confidence.

Real plans and futures
In the recent Architectural Review of Liverpool, editor Paul Finch discusses the fiascos which arose from the genesis of what some now call the ‘fourth grace’, the museum currently being built, after fierce infighting and an abandoned architectural competition, on the water front.

Finch reminds us that competitions are [often] used as substitutes for real decision-making, which in turn derives from the absence of a coherent long-term proposition about Liverpool’s urban future.

Focussing likewise on developments during Liverpool’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, Brian Hatton reminds us in the Architectural Review that the EU surely invented as a way of enrolling provincial or failing cities [to the title]... by regeneration, which seems to mean making them conducive to ‘creative industries’ and attractive to the supposed tastes of top executives.

But as Hatton also remarks, this assumes that regional and sub-regional development can be a force for genuine progress - whilst the reality seems to be increasing concentration of power and resources at the centre.

Whatever, a city which over some forty years can’t even convince its residents of the need to fix its main access route to the centre, will have difficulty persuading others of its long-term focus and resolute determination to move forward.

Clarifying the issues
So where does this all take us?

A few things are, I believe, becoming clear.

First, Liverpool’s 2008 Capital of Culture year may claim some successes, but that alone will not take us far.

There is sparse evidence that real opportunities to empower and engage people at the genuinely local level have had much impact as yet; already, for instance, there is fear that 2009 will find local arts and cultural activities sorely tested.

The window for action is short; it will need to happen very quickly if we are to retain the claimed advantages of 2008.

But this follow-through from 2008 is only now being seriously considered, and impetus is almost certain to be lost.

Where has the leadership been, to embed and prepare for the next stage of Liverpool’s re-emergence as a force to be reckoned with?

Local perceptions
Second, where there is in fact now real focus, it remains effectively outside the perceptions of many local citizens.

Tourism and students, not local jobs and the knowledge economy, are for most city residents the defining elements of the Albert Dock and Hope Street.

Except during festivals, these two regenerationally critical locations are of little interest to many Liverpudlians; and even then the festivals are not devised to raise local aspirations.

Increasingly, even these festivals are purely commercial activities which (in the case of Hope Street at least) do not build on prevoius community engagement work.

This lack of overt coherence, the segmentation of approaches to regeneration, and the lack of embeddedness, will not help Liverpool’s progress.

The Cultural Turn as mythology?
And finally, the Cultural Turn in Liverpool is perhaps in part a new mythology, for us to put alongside the Liver Birds.

Look, we say, we’ve pulled off 2008, and now we have Tourists!

But all that says, if we are brutally honest, is that we have Cultural Tourism.

Genuine Cultural Turn, of the sort which I believe would enable Liverpool to construct a new, more sustainable and prosperous future, continues to elude us.

Perhaps we now have a greater emphasis on arts and culture, but we have yet to demonstrate how that can go forward to shape a new future.

Progress or pastiche?
Maybe this can be done where a city has great leadership and vision.

But in Liverpool I must conclude that, for now, the pastiche of Cultural Tourism has eclipsed any fundamental sense of Cultural Turn.


Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and Cities in Transition; and see more of Hilary's Publications.

Precision instruments Research Forum has this week, 5 November 2008, carried an analysis (including an article by me) of A Vision for Science and Society, which DIUS, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills launched on 18 July and concluded on 17 October. The debate is by no means over. This is a conversation which has as yet a way to run.

The article which follows is a version of my contribution to that debate, exploring the view that science in the service of civil society needs to find ways to engage more openly with those whom it seeks to serve.


What's science for?
The social sciences don’t get much of a profile in A Vision for Science and Society, the document that launched the three-month consultation organised by the DIUS, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that closed earlier this month. So perhaps I, as someone at the ‘social’ end of science, am bound to see this documentation differently from some of my colleagues and fellow contributors to the debate from the natural and physical sciences.

Nonetheless, this debate is a big step towards an answer to what in my view is a central question in complex contemporary society: “What is science for and what should it do?

Science in the 21st Century
I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Sir Gareth Roberts Science Policy Lecture at the Science Council in November last year when Ian Pearson, then Minister of State for Science and Innovation, initiated the current discussion. He asked us to consider how to nurture a “more mature relationship between science, policy and society” for the 21st century.

Subsequently, when the consultation was launched in July, DIUS re-iterated the vision: “The government is committed to creating a society that is excited about science and values its importance to our social and economic well-being; feels confident in its use; and supports a representative, well-qualified workforce. This vision encapsulates our long-term ambitions and we believe it directly addresses the science and society challenges facing us today.”

The Big Question
All excellent stuff, though I recognise it’s not a universally popular perspective. The seekers-after-truth may sometimes feel it diminishes or side steps their endeavours; but all scientists seek veracity, and, within that, the subset comprising research scientists also all seek new truths. The Big Question is:

Which of these many truth objectives should the state and other collaborating parties encourage and finance, and why?

The DIUS consultation goes some long way to securing answers to this question, but not perhaps quite far enough. However, let’s consider the positives first.

There is a fundamental underpinning in the DIUS discussion of the ways in which science must address the global challenge imperatives—climate change, security, population, resources and disease—and on how the rest of civil society (all of us) must engage in this, too.

Addressing the imperatives
There is also much discussion about how to focus science translationally in our economy, towards the delivery of real enterprise and products arising from scientific research....

This makes the department’s failure to acknowledge the potential value of regional science policy in the regeneration of economically depressed areas all the more bizarre.

But the evidence of DIUS’s earnest intention to encourage more, and more diverse, people to become scientists is perhaps a fuzzy first step towards developing some sensible regional science and knowledge economy policies.

From the inside looking out
And yet…and yet… Somehow, the debate feels as though it is being conducted from the inside, looking out.

There is, it might be felt, an implicit assumption that if only everyone understood science better, even half as well as the scientists, things would be fine and we could all just get on with it.

Much as I wish this might be true, there is a part of me that doubts it.

Strategic fit
The consultation documents and the questions DIUS posed to aid discussion did a thoroughly decent job of exploring ways to achieve a better strategic fit of people, business, services, science and technology at the national, if not at the regional, level. But they do not explore why, conversely, science just does not seem to ‘fit’ everyone in our complex and diverse society.

Many of us, according to the surveys that informed the DIUS discussion, maintain that science is ‘exciting’. However, far fewer people are actually up for it when career options are floated or other aspects of informed involvement are tested.

Forms of knowledge
Science is the ultimate in human rationality (though, even then, less rational than proponents may choose to believe). But consistently rational, many of us simply are not.

Even among those well qualified in science, there are some for whom it is no more than a technical adjunct to their personal overarching beliefs and way of life.

Science is just one form of knowledge among many. What distinguishes it is its startling capacity to provoke and direct change. In this, we all, every one of us, have a stake. Science underpins our lives and we often pay for it through our taxes.

Science for the people
Looked at in this light, perhaps scientists employed or funded by civil society (‘government’) have an additional responsibility, beyond that of their usual professional obligation to seek transparency and veracity in their work.
This additional responsibility is to ensure that publicly funded science is both relevant to, and good value for, the investment civil society has made in it—just as private employers expect the same for their investments.

But where is the focus in DIUS’s debate about the particular roles and responsibilities of the scientists themselves, when they conduct ‘science for the people’?

Multi-disciplinary teamwork
Publicly funded science must be responsive and iterative; it must offer ways forward for implementation in real communities of real people.

I don’t, however, see much in the DIUS debate about how science programme managers (and, ideally, all others involved) are to be equipped to deliver this. At the very least, it requires integrated truly multi-disciplinary teamwork between scientists, policy makers and wider stakeholders at every stage, from concept to delivery.

Public scrutiny and quality assurance
And here, too, is a meaningful role for government science advisory councils, offering quality assurance and public scrutiny through independent expert opinion on which science government should support, and why.

Yet the value of these bodies—let alone how to strengthen and learn from them—is not considered in the DIUS debate.

In private industry, company boards appraise their scientific investments. Civil society must do the same for public investment, transparently.

Science as human agency
Which takes me back to the central issue.

We can’t expect everyone to be enthused about a science that appears granite-like before them. If we want true public engagement, science has to emphasise, not deny, its human agency.

Science is about risk, uncertainty and adventure, and the way real human beings cope with and grow through these challenges.

As we all know in our heads if not our hearts, it is not just about serious-looking chaps in white coats, whom the bravest of other sorts of people may join in the search for knowledge.

A compelling human story
Scientists have a very human story to tell, of choices and priorities, crossroads, blind alleys and huge successes.

If we want everyone to believe science is ‘for them’, this story must be told openly, explicitly and contemporaneously, warts and all, by those who are actually doing it.

Then science will seem genuinely relevant and accessible, a humanly shaped, ever-evolving and fundamental part of modern life. That is how things really are, from the outside looking in.

Is DIUS game for this? The debate has yet to begin.

A version of this paper was first published in Research Fortnight, 5 November 2008, pp. 17-18. Hilary Burrage has experience as a member of a science advisory council, but writes here in a purely personal capacity. Her submission to the consultation on DIUS's A Vision for Science and Society, is available here.


Read more about Science & Politics and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks

www.scienceandpolitics.co.uk

happy young people After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child's age. This decision has been widely welcomed - though strangely not quite by everyone. All children need to understand their own bodies and relationships. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.

In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a 'guide to cross-curricular issues', for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on 'Health Education: Education for Health?'.

How different things were such a relatively short time ago.

Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (please forgive the self-plagiarism.):

[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc... and the whims of individual teaching staff...

[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated 'lessons' on the 'nightmares of adults' (to use Chris Brown's apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being....

Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources - financial and personnel - to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it....

But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.

Contentious issues
It has to be remembered - or retrospectively understood - that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of 'Sex Education', which had become the almost singular 'topic' focus of the then-Conservative Government's educational legislation.

Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers of anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.

A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was 'as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.'

Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.

A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement - to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?

Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It's been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.

Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.

See also: 'Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools' (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 208).

Radio dials The UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has just conducted a consultation on Science and Society. What follows is a version of my submission to DIUS on this subject, covering issues such as the role of scientists in the service of government, the use of social science, the need to develop regional science strategies, engagement and stakeholding, the iterative way science evolves in its inevitably social context/s, and how different sorts of people feel about and become active (or not) in this process.

Introduction

The DIUS Science and Society Consultation document is a valuable contribution to contemporary debate on this complex matter. There are many important issues within that discussion on which others will doubtless offer advice, but which will not be touched upon in the commentary below.

Rather, this response will concentrate largely on the nature of science in society, with a particular (though not exclusive) focus on the centrality within that focus of the question of science, scientists, government and policy-making.

The approach in which follows will look more to the general issues, than to the specific, enumerated questions posed by the Science and Society consultation document. We are here addressing some aspects of the assumptions and constructions underlying final question of the document, i.e.:

Do these areas and questions (on roles, responsibilities and actions) provide a suitable framework for addressing the challenges we have identified?


The critical questions

The DIUS Science and Society document suggests a number of critical questions, answers to which may influence the analysis and commentary DIUS invites.

These questions include:

* Is there a difference between ‘Science and Society’ and ‘Science in Society’? To what extent is it important to recognise that science and all other forms of knowledge are inherently iterative in nature?

* Is it also important to recognise that ‘Science’ is a socially constructed area of endeavour and form of knowledge, just like every other form of human activity and knowledge? Can this help us?

* Are the roles and specific obligations of scientists different for those employed by Government and for those who are not? Do Government scientists have obligations which are additional to their basic professional ones?

Whilst it is not now the time to explore these basic questions in depth, they are fundamental to our understanding of that ‘science and society’ is about, and what it can do. A few observations on these fundamentals follow...


‘Science and Society’ and ‘Science in Society’

‘Science’ is one form of knowledge amongst many. It derives its claimed authority from the way it operates – the rigorous testing and rational pursuit or ordering of evidence – which is generally understood to be the basis also of modern western culture. To that extent science is of (or ‘in’) society, rather than an adjunct to it.

Even in modern rational societies however there are many other forms of ‘knowledge’ or belief. Indeed, one of the challenges of liberal western governments is to establish that the state is granted legitimacy by its citizens through that state’s willingness to adhere to the rules of rationality – what the state insists upon can be demonstrated empirically to be in the generic best interests overall of its citizens (adherence to the evidence and ‘rule’ improves your health, safety, environment, freedom, whatever...).

Scientists themselves, however, often seem to operate in the public domain as through there were no other modes of legitimation – they can appear as authoritative per se, rather than as offering the ‘best available’ evidence for a particular course of action or decision making.

Whether this matters depends on what is being considered: a professionally judged and clear-cut way forward is often required in emergencies for instance, but may be less appropriate for public discourse about disputed issues (and especially ones where questions of ‘morals’ or other non-empirical matters are significant).

We all need to be clear about the difference between long-term scientific debates and immediate professional judgements.


‘Science’ is a socially constructed area of endeavour and form of knowledge

It is critical to recognise that all ‘knowledge’ is socially constructed.

Scientists can legitimately, and should, offer evidence opinions on an enormous range of issues, but everyone needs to recognise that not all issues can be resolved to the satisfaction of all citizens by rational debate.

Science is an iterative activity; it does not hold that there are immutable and universal empirically-based truths, but rather that there are good reasons to develop evidence-based and rational understandings of our universe, society and other phenomena.

These reasons – better health, environment, business etc – are also the reasons why emphases in science change over time. We discover something about X which leads us to enquire about Y... which in turn takes us to Z; and in so doing we often discover also that the premise behind X is no longer secure, or that aspects of Y put a new light on how we planned to develop activities arising from something not previously seen as a related issue.

At every step our perceptions of science and ‘the evidence’ are permeated by our social and economic understandings and priorities. This is a critical and consistent underpinning of science-based enquiry, but is not always self-evidently appreciated even by scientists (and especially physical and natural scientists) themselves.

Indeed, scientists can sometimes seem to believe that it’s simply ‘the evidence’ which takes them from one enquiry to another, as though the availability of resources and socio-economic priorities had little to do with the direction of research.

This ‘knowledge-seeking imperative’ – the ‘seeker after truth’ model – may possibly have applied early in the emergence of modern science, but is not usually a realistic mode in modern-day science, often though science may still be perceived (on all sides) as like this.

Scientists often still do not articulate transparently the socio-economic or other formative rationales behind their research; but there is almost always more than one direction in which research might travel, if all the most likely routes and outcomes were to be considered at the point when research is initiated.


Roles and specific obligations of scientists employed by Government

A number of obligations, by common agreement between practitioners and the wider society, apply to all science practitioners, in whatever discipline. These include the requirement to conduct and report their work according to strict criteria of accountability, as well as the injunction to ‘do no harm’.

These obligations are incorporated into the criteria for professional activity as a Chartered Scientist, a status which was formalised in 2000, and in the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for scientists, introduced by the UK’s then Chief Scientific Advisor in 2007.

Almost all scientists, in all disciplines, also have other obligations. For a number, mostly academics, this will be simply to the extension of the paradigm or framework for their specific discipline, ‘pure science’ as defined by themselves and their peers.

For some others - probably many - it will be the requirement to produce the information and technologies required by their private sector employers in business and industry.

And for another group it is to inform and / or provide professional support for the work of Government, which in turn makes for the same relationships in regard to the interests of the citizens of the state.

Each of these circumstances makes particular demands on, and offers specific perspectives on the work of, science practitioners.

Specifically, these circumstances define ‘stakeholding’ – the ways in which science practitioners have common cause, and the people or communities to whom they are responsible.

In some cases (e.g. business and sometimes academia) that responsibility and commonality is direct and indeed directed.

In other instances (e.g. most Government-sponsored science) the extent or boundaries of common interest and stakeholding are far less easily defined.

This fuzziness of definition is not because there is no clear line of commissioning and formal direct accountability – these are usually very transparent – but because none of the parties directly involved is acting simply on their own behalf. Activities undertaken for the Government (state) are, at whatever distance, activities undertaken on behalf of us all.

There is therefore a very real sense in which science ‘for the Government’ is ‘for’ us all; yet scientific research and development is sometimes conducted (and permitted to be conducted) as though only those who, metaphorically speaking, sign the chequebook are of serious consequence.

One example here might be research in an area such as energy conservation or animal health, where considerations of ‘social / socio-economic application’ are put aside until the work is almost complete, perhaps to be dealt with ‘later’ by non-scientists (policy makers etc). But leaving potential wider social (dis)benefit indicators, measures and frameworks until the science research and development is underway is not a rare occurrence.

There is a significant risk when this happens of ignoring central issues around the ultimate public good. Socio-economic / public interest issues must not be left to ‘end of pipe’ where there is Government funding of science. Yet the number of available research and other specialists who have experience of embedding wider public (‘indirect’ stakeholder) interest from the onset of a scientific programme is small.

In short, there are generic and also specific responsibilities on both scientists and commissioners of science. Whilst the generic responsibilities apply to all scientific activity, the specifics may vary; and this is particularly true in terms of stakeholding.

In private business there is still regulation, but within this boundary the reciprocity and obligation is between scientists and their employers. (The issue of how governments and private companies influence each other is a separate factor – though also critical.)


Other aspects of Science and Society

Whilst there are many considerations deriving from the thoughts above which may be brought to bear, this note will focus on just a few, as follows:


Creationism, culture and community concerns

It seems that the challenges arising from issues such as Creationism have caught scientists on the hop. They do not as yet appear to have a coherent strategy for addressing such matters, although fundamental beliefs of this kind have now been expressed in the UK for some years.

This may seem a matter at a distance from the Science and Society issues we are here discussing, but perhaps it is not.

As we noted above, modern science and technology is predicated, like modern business and law, on the over-riding notion of contestable rationality. Not everyone however sees the world in this light. That is why, it might be suggested, many scientists have such difficulty understanding how Creationism and other similar belief sets are acceptable to people.

There is however no obligation on anyone in the UK to sign up to (or, NB, ‘believe in’) rationality outside that underpinning the law itself.

Perceived like this, it is possible to think of a whole range of non-empirically demonstrable belief systems – including aspects of health care, environment and so forth – as part of a continuum from clear demonstrability to a full-scale non-empiricality.

Dismissing these belief systems as irrelevant to science in the modern world is a serious risk, not least because it is likely to widen the divide between those who subscribe to science and those who prefer, or are accustomed to, other bases for their interpretations of people and their lives.

Of course there are cross-overs, but there is nonetheless an apparent reluctance on the part of many different sorts of citizens to become involved in science if they are not themselves ‘standard model’ stereotype. Perhaps this is because some people shy away from the rigid functionality – as they see it – of science.

Other professional disciplines (such as Health, Social Care and Sure Start services) have learned that there is rarely a part of the community which is ‘hard to reach’, but rather there are ‘difficult to access’ services; science in general has not even begun to recognise this in itself. It seems often to stand beyond ‘real people’, a monument to apparent clarity of thought and dispassionate analysis – a model which practising scientists themselves would very probably reject, if asked.

If the assumption of apparently dispassionate and unbending science is correct, one way that science might reach back into ‘the community’ (in reality of course there are many communities) might be for scientists, and especially scientists in the service of the state and teachers of science, to emphasise the exploratory, ever-hypothetical, nature of their work, with all the fluidity and changes of emphasis and development which occur at every stage. Every practitioner of science is aware that choices about how to interpret information, and what to do next, must be made every day.

Perhaps the real challenge here is to distinguish the substantive, measurable outcomes of science and technology – those much admired, massive achievements gained by scientists for the benefit of us all – from the frailty and vagaries of the scientific journey or endeavour itself.

There may be many scientists who do not (or prefer not to) themselves recognise this distinction very clearly, but the acknowledgement of human agency, with all the issues which thereby arise, is a reciprocal balance to the towering achievements of science and technology.

For science to become truly accessible to ‘ordinary people’ of every kind, it needs to be seen by them as something ordinary human beings actually do, and something to which ordinary people can, with hard work and application, aspire.

Peer review, media perceptions and science communications

These quasi-political issues also relate to the ways in which science is communicated.

Just as most scientists are not trained (and so cannot be expected) to assess the wider socio-economic etc impacts of their work, nor are they often trained to communicate it to the wider world.

There is evidence that most scientists are reluctant to expound on their work before it is completed, if even then. This relates to the way in which they have been trained – do not share your findings until they have been peer-reviewed and approved. In effect, there is a requirement of silence.

Little surprise, then, that most people think of science as inflexible and ‘correct’ in a way that brooks no debate. Yet the reality of scientific research is crammed with side-lines, reversals, dead ends and brilliant serendipity.

There are good reasons to observe confidentiality in e.g. commercial operations, but much of publicly funded science is not at this later, particular stage in the game. It is the underpinning and exploratory work which is usually best fitted to direct public support.

This support has as its general corollary the ‘right to know’ and usually to consent. For this reason alone government supported scientists must be encouraged (if not obliged) to share their research processes and findings with the wider public.

There needs to be a clear understanding that peer review is a qualitatively different process from public understandings. The former is a matter of ultimate quality control (which in itself may be less evident anyway in commercial undertakings, where review is internal not external); the latter should be propagated as a perception of a way to find things out – always a fluid and challenging journey.

There is much can be done here to make things better.

Government should require of its scientists that (in appropriate ways) they share their research as it progresses. Peer review must be seen as only a part of that (state funded) journey, not as an end in itself. (Presumably, all government funded research is continuously monitored anyway?) Peer review is an important process internal to science. Communication must become an on-going external activity.

The production of story-boards and other modes of open communication can and should be taught in undergraduate science training. Not all will feel comfortable with this, but there should be someone in every team who is able to deliver.

And science must become a media story in its own right. This means that well qualified scientists need always to be available (as those who worry about specific science issues seem always to be anyway) so weight can be added to emerging debates; and so also science can become reported before it becomes controversial, as well as when it does.


Public science from the inside: Science Advisory Councils

The role of Science Advisory Councils (SACs), which offer advice as ’critical friends’ to government Chief Scientists and through them to Ministers, is another aspect of public engagement and stakeholding. SACs can offer both the highest levels of expertise, and a cool look at the wider picture and the longer term.

The relationship between SACs and other influences on scientific decision-making in government sponsored science is sometimes unclear, but the assurance of impartiality which Nolan appointment procedures seek to impose is an important element in the mix.

SACs, suitably supported, are able to appraise and advise on science developments in a way which adds considerable value for government, especially if the wider issues of engagement and stakeholding are kept firmly in mind.

It is therefore surprising that thus far SACs have not been seen as a major contributor in the objective of securing public confidence in the functioning of science, and neither have they been bodies brought as appropriate to the attention of the wider public, as evidence of partnership working at this level. (It might reasonably be assumed that anyone willing to be appointed by a Minister to such a role might in normal circumstances also be willing to be publicly accountable and visible in that role.)

Although some scientists are keener than others on this idea, there is important potential in the use of SACs (which rightly now include Generalist or Lay members as well as internationally recognised specialists) for reducing public uncertainty and lack of clarity about major public concerns around how government directs science and technology.

A start in this direction could be the bringing together of SAC members across government departments to enquire how they perceive their work, and how they would like advise it should be taken forward. This potential has so far barely been recognised, let alone developed, either as a general proposal or, in regard to their very specific functions, for Lay or Generic members of such bodies, for whom role development remains largely latent - but in terms of future-facing engagement and stakeholding perhaps central - as things stand.

The Social Sciences, engagement and stakeholding

The current Science and Society consultation recognises the role of the Social Sciences in modern government and activities; but these disciplines are thereafter little discussed. This is problematic, not least in the sense that the social and natural sciences, properly brought together, offer a synergy and iterative energy which neither alone is likely to produce.... a matter which seems sometimes to be better managed by profit-facing private businesses in science (customer intelligence), than by government.

Social science is of course far more than empirical ‘surveys’ and ‘public opinion’. It covers many aspects of the reality of science, including economics, social outcomes, customs, attitudes and beliefs, cultural contexts and constructions, training and education, and much else. It is also iterative and reflexive, in that at its best it makes overt the interactions between researchers in all disciplines and their work.

In government supported natural and physical science ‘social’ issues should therefore never be left to ‘end of pipe’. Public accountability and understandings of wider stakeholding – ultimately everyone, when state funding is involved – must involve social as well as natural scientists; and this is true of Science Advisory Councils as well as of individual research projects.

The Haldane principle, the Science Councils & regional science policy

The Haldane Principle now has a century of history, and it may be helpful to consider how it is applied in the contemporary setting, where perhaps it is at times more of a constraint to action than it need be.

The Principle is fundamentally critical part of the science process when it is applied to the requirement that there be no external (and especially no governmental or political) interference in the way science is conducted, and in how the outcomes of research are presented and considered. Science must be led by the evidence, ascertained and corroborated (if it is) by the experts, and not by the convenience or otherwise of unsubstantiated opinion.

There is however a sense in which now-conventional understandings of the Haldane principle probably cannot be applied in the world of ultra-expensive modern ‘Big Science’. Whilst the major funding councils properly and necessarily work at arms’ length from the government (and vice versa) it is unrealistic to think that the best judgements ‘in the public interest’ will inevitably be made by these councils operating alone. They are eminently best placed to judge the viability and likely excellence of proposals for research; but they will necessarily often lack the skills and perceptions required to judge which of a range of proffered potential activities will best serve the citizens of the UK – who are the ultimate funders of much of the research which is conducted, and often also the ultimate beneficiaries or otherwise of this work.

There are many compelling reasons to go ahead with seriously costly science projects; international prestige and economic impact, likely direct outcomes, technological benefits and much else are at stake. Some of these are quantifiable by scientists and their advisors, some of them require a wider perspectives, such as the examination of possible added-value socio-economic impacts, which are beyond the strictly scientific.

It is at this point that Haldane becomes problematic.

One example here might be the newly introduced Science Cities, which have been created on an apparently rather ad hoc basis. These at present appear to be more about branding and commercial synergies (both of course essential) than about science as such – which is left as ever to ‘the scientists’, as though this were a different matter beyond the ken of economic strategists.

Another example might be the prospect of a regional science policy. It is probable that there is added value to be had at least in some instances from investing in very large scale science in the UK on a regional basis, e.g. in investing in say global collaborations to be located beyond the ‘Golden Triangle’, even if there are marginally more challenges for the science operation when things are done this way.

Regenerational impacts beyond those ensuing from the science itself may be critical and should in some circumstances be one of the determining factors in the investment of the huge amounts of public money required for very large scale Big Science investments.

But whilst Haldane holds sway at every point, there is little to persuade those who make funding decisions to look at these wider impacts, or to give them a sensibly determined weighting in the debate.

This position is perhaps acceptable when funding is not from the public purse, but that is rarely now how things happen. Public money requires the best possible return in as many ways as possible, both direct and indirect.

In other large physical and infrastructural investments this potential return is given due weight; and so it should be when the physical investment is in plant or infrastructure for ‘Big Science’. The normal added-value and multiplier outcomes, in addition to the special ones for technology development and so forth, are also important and should be given due weight in the decision-making process.

The English regions and the devolved administrations are relatively large agglomerations of land and population, and the case for considering regional science policies – including wider socio-economic impacts and issues of sustainability - is now pressing.

A genuinely ‘Knowledge Culture’

We rarely see the day-to-day world around us as a transparently knowledge environment. With the right handling and encouragement however, this could change.

There is enormous scope for enhancing perceptions and understandings of science, technology and other very high knowledge / skills activities in the UK today – an outcome which could have huge impact in terms of the future success and, critically, sustainability in all senses, of Britain in the twenty-first century.

Many people, we are told, see science as ‘exciting’; but far fewer understand very much about how it comes about and what it actually does.

This situation is likely to change radically only if there is a much deeper recognition of the constantly changing human choices and emphases which confront us all, scientists and non-scientists alike.

The unexamined notion that science is a solid construction, an immutable rock on which other things are built, is not as helpful here as the idea that science, in common with all other human behaviours, is a socially constructed activity.

This perceived immutability is not an aspect of science which makes it attractive as a form of knowledge, or as an activity, to everyone (and especially not to some groups of people); but neither is this perception necessary.

Modern science and technology is an ‘enterprise’ which has enormous potential and has already delivered amazing impacts over many decades. It is in these respects amongst the most powerful belief systems (religion is another), and without doubt also the singularly most powerful force for rapid change, that the human race has ever experienced.

Science is a negotiated, humanly determined, part of our experience. That experience is self-evidently filtered through our cultural contexts, our personal and given characteristics, and our education, work and civic lives.

These humanly grounded perceptions of science now need to be commonly and widely recognised. In so doing we would be opening wide the door to science for many for whom that door is currently at best ajar.

Far from making science seem less important by recognising its fundamentally negotiated nature, this basic understanding of what science ‘is’ would enhance the identification and delivery of positive synergies between ‘science’, and, in its broadest sense, ‘society’, dramatically.


Hilary Burrage
(writing in a personal capacity)


Read more about Science Policy.

Recent Entries

From Regeneration To Sustainability: A Northern Take On Knowledge
I’d like to begin with some thoughts on what Urban Regeneration in ‘the North’ might be about. I shall assume…
Workable Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (Equality And Diversity 'Regeneration Rethink')
Discuss equality and diversity issues with any group of regeneration practitioners, and just one of two responses is likely. Some…
Communities And The Public Realm: Places For People
I recently contributed to a masterclass on community engagement in development of the public realm. The scope for discussion was…