Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dame Bridget Ogilvie

  Further to your ongoing enquiry into the Government Funding of the Scientific Learned Societies, I would like to make the following points and submit the attached documents as written evidence:

  I have already submitted my resignation notice, but for completeness I attach it again.[9]

  1.  The minutes from the last four Copus Council meetings,** which clearly indicate a consensus about the way forward for Copus as a strategic focus for science communication, and a number of areas of work agreed by Council. The ideas presented in these minutes illustrate a useful role for remodelled Copus that fills a crucial gap in current science communication activity. This new and agreed role suggests that the remodelled Copus has made much further progress on paper than its founding organisations will give it credit for in public. Their suggestion that the new Council has little idea of what to do lies uncomfortably with their previous support for the re-modelling, and with the fact that these minutes were accepted without comment or dissent in their presence.

  As I have previously made clear, I have no problem with the current activities that occupy the time of Copus staff—it is simply that Copus Council does not need to exist for them to take place, and I can no longer endorse a programme that claims to have recruited dedicated staff to work on the remodelled Copus, when in fact, almost all their time is taken up with running previously existing programmes. The Royal Society makes very clear that in its view the grant schemes are the most important raison d'etre of Copus. However, the grants are allocated by a separate committee of the Royal Society, and do not need the time or expertise of a further group such as Council in order to function.

  2.  The issue of how Copus is financed is an important one, because at the moment the advice and input from Council members is wasted, as they have no knowledge of the Copus budget and no influence over how it might be spent. Information on budgets has been scant—the only documents I have seen are a scratch paper tabled at the Council meeting last May,[10] and the draft budget for the so-called business plan produced by the Royal Society just before the Council meeting in May 2002.*

  In the minutes you will note Council's support for the idea that Copus underpin the forthcoming ECSITE conference as means of establishing an audience with an important group of stakeholders—the European network of science centres. Despite the fact that Council endorsed the proposal twice, Copus has not been able to make the commitment to the project as its expenditure is subject to Royal Society preferences and priorities, and not those identified by Copus Council. This begs the question yet again, what is the point of seeking advice from a community of leaders in the field of science communication if their advice can only be implemented with the further agreement of one of the players? Their role can no longer be to advise the three founding organisations on their science communication policies, as each organisation now has its own programmes of thriving activities and corporate advice mechanisms in place.

  3.  The Royal Society's attitude towards Copus is clear from the Business Plan that was submitted embarrassingly late before the last Copus Council meeting. I only received the first draft less than 10 days before the meeting. It read more like a warning about what Copus shouldn't be getting involved with, rather than a strong case for raising funds for the remodelled Copus; it made little reference to the work areas agreed by Council, and those it did refer to it misinterpreted at a fairly fundamental level. The Royal Society offered to write the plan at the January meeting. It completely ignored the initial draft that Copus staff were asked to prepare as a matter of urgency after the meeting, and which I include here* as I feel it summarises the agreed objectives, strategic aims and action points agreed by Council members during meetings I have chaired.

  4.  My final point concerns constitutional and governance issues. As I indicated in my verbal evidence to your Committee, I am the first to agree that organisations will be measured by what they achieve, rather than how they are constituted. However, when the constitution hinders the evolution, implementation and delivery of agreed objectives, then there is a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Copus Council agreed that a report about the terms of reference, governance etc of Copus should be commissioned, which is how the Jamieson report* came about. You will note from reading it that it makes no particular recommendations about the way forward, but does present a number of suggestions. The discussions at the meeting are minuted as follows:

  "Council considered the Jamieson review about what would be desirable and/or feasible for terms of reference and constitution for the remodelled Copus. Council agreed that, for the moment, Copus should remain an unincorporated body hosted by The Royal Society, but that its relationship with The Royal Society and the other sectors on Council should be clarified via a memorandum of understanding.

  As the remodelled Copus evolves and develops its revised remit, it might be appropriate to consider a more independent constitutional arrangement that would enable Copus to become a membership organisation for science communicators. It was agreed that The Royal Society, which is currently accountable for Copus, should take this forward in collaboration with the Chairman."

  The Royal Society has interpreted this as Council's agreement to retain the status quo as an unincorporated body within the Royal Society for the next three to five years. No attempt has been made to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding. I find this somewhat disingenuous, and even, to my mind, a rather strange version of the current situation, as Copus has absolutely no legal status—unincorporated or otherwise.

  As I have stressed before, it is a matter of immense regret that it has not been possible to move Copus forward. The time, support and goodwill I have received from leading figures in the community only serve to re-emphasise my conviction that there is a need for an umbrella body of some sort within the field of science communication. I do not believe that the concerted brains and expertise of Council members and OST would have invested this much time and energy in developing such a project if it was not important. It is a matter of concern that some of the principal bodies involved in this field cannot see the potential for such a body, and are too defensive and shortsighted to believe that they might have something to learn, as well as lots to give, to such a collaboration.

9   Not printed. Back

10   Not printed. Back

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