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Gwenaëlle Douaud experiences the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme

Gwenaëlle Douaud has long been interested in the interface between science and policy-making. How does the government make use of evidence-based research to decide on a new policy? How is a scientific consensus on a particular issue reached? In terms of the overlap with her own work, Gwen is in particular concerned about big data policy, and the ethics of screening healthy volunteers for dementia.

In 2017, Gwen applied for the Royal Society’s pairing scheme which gives policymakers and research scientists an opportunity to experience each other’s worlds. She spent a week in Westminster in December, which included two days shadowing her local East Oxford MP, Annaliese Dodds.

Along with 28 other researchers from across the UK, Gwen discovered first-hand the fast-paced business of an MP’s day-to-day life. The experience gave her insight into the amount of ‘noise’ in  politics, and an understanding of how difficult it is to get key messages across to parliamentarians overloaded with information, and with very little time to process it and make informed decisions. At the same time, it was very clear that MPs were very eager to hear more from scientists. It is this disconnect that schemes such as the Royal Society one are designed to overcome.

As well as shadowing an MP, Gwen also attended panel discussions, seminars and a mock select committee, and learned about the work of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, an in-house source of independent analysis of public policy issues. She attended a meeting with the interim Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof. Chris Whitty, who gave a reassuring account and concrete examples of how much thegovernment was willing to take scientific evidence into account when making policy. The challenge lies in making sure that that evidence is up to date, balanced, and easily understood.

On Tuesday 10 April, Annaliese Dodds will make a reciprocal visit to NDCN to find out more about Gwen’s research, where basic neuroscience, imaging methods development and clinical application meet. She will learn about the workings of the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging where Gwen is based, and meet with Head of Department Irene Tracey.

If you are interested in applying for this scheme, take action before Sunday 15 April!