Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Third supplementary memorandum submitted by the Royal Society

  Thank you for your letter of 8 July 2002. I am glad you have already got the Jamieson Report and the draft Copus business plan (though I do not know who sent you the latter since none of the current Copus Council members was approached about its release). I hope these documents help you in understanding the Copus situation. I should stress the business plan is a draft. It incorporates the comments made by Dame Bridget before it was circulated to the Copus Council but it does not incorporate the comments made at the Council meeting itself.

  As you requested, I enclose the original paper I prepared which was approved by the three bodies: the Royal Institution, the British Association and the Royal Society, which set up the new Copus. I also enclose the letter which I wrote to Dame Bridget about the constitutional arrangements. This letter was also agreed in advance by the three organisations. You will see in the letter that I offered to prepare a paper for the Copus Council in January 2002 but this offer was not accepted by Dame Bridget.

  Finally, on the separate issue of international subscriptions, we currently pay a total of 51 subscriptions of which 17 have been partly delegated to invididual scientific learned societies with the intention of bringing them closer to the scientists who may be interested in their work. The process has taken place over several years. Unfortunately in that time subscriptions have risen and the actual savings this year compared with 1997 is £17k and is likely to disappear altogether next year. These small savings have been used to support other international activity.

Stephen Cox

Executive Secretary

16 July 2002



  Over the past 12 months Copus has undergone a thorough review to see how and under what circumstances it could respond to the rapidly changing environment within which it now operates.

  A report from the Office of Public Management (OPM) produced following extensive consultations with the scientific and science communications communities, unfortunately produced no uniformity of view about how Copus should adapt. A further major consultation exercise was necessary to come up with an agreed position. This included meetings of the sponsors, a paper to the House of Lords enquiry on Science and Society, exploration of various models for a new Copus and two major meetings in May and June to consult the existing Copus membership and the wider scientific community. It seems unlikely that there will ever be complete unanimity of view about the way Copus should develop but the following proposal for recasting Copus represents the most likely model to command general support although I am sure individuals will criticise us for either not going far enough or for being too radical. The proposal, subject to the outcome of the meeting on Friday, will be presented to the Royal Society Council (and to the Councils of the BA and RI) for approval in October.


  The thrust of the changes are that Copus will increasingly concentrate on developing dialogue between the public and scientists, with its scope broadened and its membership changed to reflect the enormous changes in the environment within which it operates. The membership will be more inclusive than it has been in the past. Although the initials Copus will be retained, its name will be changed and one suggestion is "Copus: Science and the Public in Partnership". It is not intended at this stage to introduce some of the more radical proposals which have been suggested, such as elections of the Council, membership fees, etc, although these will clearly remain options for the new Council to consider should they so wish. The new Council will retain the best of its existing portfolio of activities and be charged with developing new innovative ways of encouraging greater public awareness of and confidence in science and scientists. It will, however, remain firmly based in the scientific community and will retain a strong responsibility for encouraging scientists to develop their communications skills. It will also retain links with the three sponsors as this gives it the status and the firm institutional base which such a Council needs if it is to have the impact it needs in its area of activity.


  The primary purpose of the new Council (Copus) will be act as a national focus for activity in science communication. It will:

    —  take a strategic view and offer leadership in the field of science communication;

    —  share and disseminate best practice;

    —  seek new ways of engaging the public in informed debate on scientific issues;

    —  support activities aimed at improving understanding of science amongst the wider public and improving scientists understanding of the concerns of the public;

    —  act as a point of contact for government and for the media in developing dialogue between scientists and the public;

    —  support local and national initiatives aimed at improving communication between the public and scientists; and

    —  encourage organisations to work together to develop a better dialogue.


  It is neither desirable nor realistic to expect the new Copus to do all that is implied by the descriptions of its purpose immediately, and as its work develops some aspects will come to the fore and perhaps others will be dropped. It will thus build up its work over time and in accordance with the wishes of its Council and the availability of resources.

  The first major task of the Council will be to push forward the new agenda and in particular to identify and promote new ways of engaging the public in informed debate, explore the best means of developing a closer relationship with government and parliament.

  It will be able to do this from a position of strength, using the Copus name and the range of existing activities, which it will continue to run. It will refocus these activities in the light of the changed agenda:

    —  Best Practice—Copus already produces first class best practice guides which will continue and it will, subject to resources, commission a study to see whether this role could be extended (by analogy with, for example, The Advertising Standards Authority) to produce a "charter mark" for good public understanding effort;

    —  Copus Forums—will be extended to include developing advice, opinion and information about key issues. The participating institutions will set the agenda for such meetings so that the ensuing proposals are widely accepted and implemented. It will operate at both practitioner and senior levels, bringing together the heads of all major institutions; it will also work with the practitioners who manage activities and schemes nation-wide;

    —  Policy development—Copus will bring together small groups to look at policy issues relating to the promotion of science and publish their findings. This activity will underpin the development of future strategy;

    —  Grants Programme—the Copus grants programme is more than 10 years old and has provided more than 1,000 grants. It is also an invaluable information resource; such information should be used to inform current priorities and strategy. The grants programme will devote a proportion of its resource to "responsive mode funding" and the remainder to identifying and supporting themes and topics that reflect current priorities, eg disability, careers, environment;

    —  Information—it is suggested by many that the science community is handicapped in its dealings with the media by lack of information. While some of the major organisations have an in-house media watch service, most of the smaller organisations do not and this leaves them exposed and vulnerable. The provision of an information service by Copus will help meet the criticism that the scientific community is always on the defensive because it does not spot issues in advance.


  The secretariat, for the next three years, will be located in the Royal Society and will comprise a full time Secretary plus assistance. The person recruited will work closely to the Council and, as at present, with the three sponsors. The financial resources will also for three years continue to come from The Royal Society and the position will be reviewed at the end of the period.


  Briefly the next steps are to:

    —  set up the new Council;

    —  constitute the Executive;

    —  recruit a secretary to Copus;

    —  consider undertaking a review of the effectiveness of the UK effort in PUS; and

    —  explore co-operation with the new science centres.

Annex 1


Proposed Council Membership

  The new membership of Copus is proposed as follows:

  This list is provisional for the present, not all the individuals have been approached.
ChairmanDame Bridget Ogilvie
MembersSir David Davies, FRS, Engineering
Mr Keith Davies, Engineering
Lord Turnberg, Medicine
Dianne Garner, Medicine
Sir Gareth Roberts, FRS, Learned Societies
Dr Jack Gow, Learned Societies
Dr Lawrence Smaje, The Wellcome Trust
A N Other ?, The Wellcome Trust
Carol Vorderman, Media
Glenwyn Benson, Media
Trevor Phillips, Media
Dr Neil Chalmers, Museums sector
A N Other, Museums sector
Dr Gillian Thomas, Science Centres
AN Other, Science Centres
To be identified, Scottish Science)
To be identified, Welsh Science)
To be identified, Northern Ireland Science)
To be identified, Younger Scientists
Professor John Enderby, FRS, The Royal Society
Stephen Cox, The Royal Society
Professor Colin Blakemore, FRS, The British Association for the Advancement of Science
Dr Peter Briggs, The British Association for the Advancement of Science
Mr Winston Fletcher, The Royal Institution
Professor Susan Greenfield, The Royal Institution

Options for other Members




Lay Members

Annex 2

Letter from Stephen Cox, Executive Secretary, Royal Society to Dame Bridget Ogilvie

  I am writing following the conversation you had last week with Lord May to set out the position on Copus as we see it. At the last Copus Council meeting, the Jamieson Report on Copus Terms of Reference was discussed. The thrust of the early part of that report is that the Council members interviewed were very supportive of Copus's new direction and they were less concerned about corporate governance. Therefore, I am sure you were right to concentrate on governance issues at the meeting itself as I know you feel there is ambiguity which is holding Copus back. You, Stephen Speed and I met subsequently to take this discussion forward and I agreed to consult the BA and the RI about these discussions. I have done this and we are all agreed that the restructuring of Copus has gone well and its new focus is just what is required. The leaflet which Natasha Martineau has produced sets out the position extremely well and we support this. We concur with the statement in the Jamieson Report which said about Council members:

    Amongst those interviewed there was strong support for the vision of Copus as the national forum for science communication and public engagement. In the words of one Council member "Copus should be setting the national agenda. It should be identifying the problems and then defining solutions it would like to see others attacking. Its role is not as another funder of schemes". Some others put it . . . that (it) sets standards, promotes best practice and generally acts as an umbrella organisation.

  As you know, Brian Jamieson offered two options for the Copus structure: Option 1, an unincorporated entity as at present and Option 2, an independent legal entity.

  In its discussion Copus Council favoured Option 1 and it is this option which we (ie the RS, RI and BA) believe is the right way forward. We strongly support the new inclusive Council and see it as the major force for change. We think its current composition, which was only brought into being earlier this year, should be retained although there may possibly be occasions sometime in the future when the Council needs to add to its number.

  It would be possible to pursue Option 2 ie to set up Copus as an independent legal entity.

  The costs in both time and money to do this are substantial and the benefits are not immediately obvious. Indeed, there would seem to be real advantages in retaining close links with the original three sponsors. The Royal Society discharges the substantial responsibilities as employer of the two staff dedicated to Copus work, provides the financial, administrative, IT and other support for Copus and acts as financial guarantor. At the present time, I believe, it would be disadvantageous to Copus to sever these links and would be an expensive option which Copus is currently not resourced to undertake. This does, however, have, what some may regard, as a down side: it means Copus needs to conform to Royal Society procedures but that is necessary if the Society is to continue to provide the current level of support.

  You will gather from what I have said that the Royal Society, the British Association and the Royal Institution wish to remain as the sponsors of Copus. We all believe it is in Copus's best interests and in the interests of the science communications community to have our whole-hearted support. We believe we still have much to offer an operation which we have built up over the years. It is not clear whether other organisations wish to become sponsors but my feeling is that at present most are content with being members of the current Copus Council and recognise that this may place certain limits on their actions (which were mentioned in the Jamieson Report).

  The Jamieson Report raised several other issues which I wanted to touch upon briefly:

    (i)  the employment of staff. I believe the current arrangement works well: the Royal Society procedures are applied to the selection and appointment process itself and you, as Chair, are consulted on the selection of a suitable candidate. The individual's terms and conditions of service are those of the Royal Society;

    (ii)  the possibility of Council members other than the Royal Society contributing to Copus. I think this would be desirable and the Council should consider whether its members could make contributions to Copus but I do not see this as a priority at present. If it becomes feasible there is no difficulty over the Royal Society receiving these monies and earmarking them for Copus, indeed this is what we do in other operations we run;

    (iii)  the Copus grants are also important but Jamieson suggested that these are a potential distraction from Copus's strategic aims. Currently the grants are awarded by a panel which is appointed by the Council of the Royal Society. The grants are funded by OST and the Royal Society and the priorities are determined by these two bodies in consultation with Copus. The grants are administered by the Royal Society and awarded under the Copus banner. This structure seems to work well and I believe it should be maintained.

  Council is now well set up and will gain strength from the work it does. The Council agreed the work plan at the last meeting and the priority is to deliver this plan. I am fully aware of the need for additional resources and I will arrange for an outline business case to be put to the next Council meeting which, if approved, will form the basis of a submission to OST.

  I would very much welcome your comments on the general thrust of this letter and if you are in broad agreement, I am happy to prepare a short paper for the next Copus Council with the intention of putting governance issues to rest so that Copus can concentrate on its work.

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