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Research Question

  1. What lessons can be learnt from comparing examples of oversight of emerging science and technology across different countries, sectors, time periods, and science and technology areas?

Many countries, including the UK, regard advances in science and technology as a key factor for delivering benefits to society and the economy. However, there are many complex challenges that may be associated with new developments. These include public concerns and perceptions about new scientific techniques or technology, and health, safety and environmental risks. The difficulty is to establish a managing structure or oversight process that capitalises on the benefits and opportunities offered by emerging science and technology while safeguarding the health and safety of people and minimising risks.

The aim of this study commissioned by Wellcome was to examine the oversight of emerging science and technology in historical and current cases spanning different countries, sectors and science and technology areas, and extract common themes and lessons. Researchers developed a series of 10 diverse case studies to explore the effectiveness of different oversight methods and identify key lessons. To get a balanced understanding of the effectiveness of the different oversight examples analysed, the study focused both on what worked well and not so well in the context of the oversight. The evidence was gathered using a mixed-methods approach designed to analyse existing knowledge and understanding on the current and historical landscape of emerging science and technology oversight. The research is part of a wider project by Wellcome to identify steps that would be required to position the UK as a global leader in the effective, efficient and ethical oversight of emerging science and technology.

Key Findings

The analysis identified a set of common lessons — or guiding principles — that are wide-ranging enough to be usefully considered in other contexts of emerging science and technology oversight.

  • Balanced: It is important that oversight approaches aim to balance the conflicting benefits and risks associated with the emerging science or technology, as well as the needs of the different stakeholders.
  • Diverse and contextual: There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to emerging science and technology oversight — it is vital to take into account the context within which the science or technology is developing.
  • Takes the initiative: Stakeholders that take the initiative to put in place oversight structures in a timely manner can take advantage of the opportunities provided by the emerging science or technology, and also help identify the risks.
  • Anticipatory: It is helpful to anticipate the different potential paths an emerging science or technology could take as it evolves over time, as well as the ensuing impacts.
  • Adaptable: For an oversight approach to be effective, it helps to build in flexibility so that it can respond to changes and be adjusted over time as the science or technology evolves.
  • Collaborative: Adopting an inclusive and participatory approach to science and technology oversight helps build accountability and confidence.
  • Embraces communication: Effective communication between the main actors involved in the oversight process facilitates transparency and clarity of roles and responsibilities.
  • Engaged with the public: Harnessing the role of the public can help build accountability and trust, and also engage

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by Wellcome Trust and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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