POST’s Sept/October Newsletter and Programme

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has just published its latest Newsletter and planned programme of work. Some of the themes in the programme map on to A-UK members’ areas of expertise, so worth having a look through.


STS and Public/Policy engagement

Maggie Mort, Vicky Singleton and Alison Lloyd-Williams at the Department of Sociology and Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University have just launched a VR film they have created based on the account of those caught in the floods earlier this year, work undertaken for the ESRC-funded project Children, Young People and Flooding. This offers a novel approach to STS and public/policy engagement.

Further details are available at

20th anniversary: Science and Society Report

James Wilsdon (Director, Research on Research Institute (RoRI) at the University of Sheffield) is hosting a virtual meeting on the morning of Tuesday 22 September for a UKRI-RoRI online workshop marking 20 years since the publication of the House of Lords ’Science and Society’ report. 

Speakers at the workshop will include Amanda Solloway MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation and Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, the new CEO of UKRI. LordRobert Winston will be offering his own reflections, as one of a sadly-diminishing band of members of the original Lords’ committee, as will Prof Brian Wynne, who was the special adviser for that report. Other speakers include Fiona Fox; Clare Matterson; Imran Khan; Erinma Ochu, Sarah Castell and Jack Stilgoe. 

Full details and a link to register can be found here:  

AsSIST-UK coordinates training in Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)

The Engineering and Physical Science Research Councils (and UKRI more generally) recently required that students at their Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) receive research training in the area of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). AsSIST-UK coordinated a Workshop in collaboration with Jack Stilgoe (UCL). Below is a brief report of the Workshop.

 The meeting brought colleagues involved in delivering research training and supporting RRI in UKRI/EPSRC CDTs across 12 Higher Education Institutes: Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter, Kings College London, Imperial College, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, UCL. Participants shared a wide range of experiences and highlighted key institutional and pedagogic challenges. Though it is not feasible to capture all aspects some key messages emerged. 

The arrangements for delivering RRI varied greatly between institutions. Colleagues were generally promoting concerted provision across CDTs and postgraduate programmes to achieve economies of scale and networking benefits. Some CDTs had requested bespoke provision shaped around their substantive topics and broader framings. These activities cut across HEI’s largely discipline-based resource management structures. Their dispersal across different schools and faculties could pose challenges in securing resource streams needed to create new posts/sustain delivery.

Though the institutions represented were able to draw on expertise within their own institutions, it was noted that some organisations buy-in external RRI and related training. CDT students have heavy science and engineering workloads and may be anxious about being invited to engage with social science dimensions and approaches. They may feel overwhelmed and thus unwilling to do non-credit bearing work.

The experience of those working in the field of Synthetic Biology is that RRI may best emerge through bottom-up establishment of constructive relationships with students and their supervisors rather than making it a mandatory part of research training. Formal research training is often provided at the outset when its relevance would become more salient later in the PhD journey as students contemplate the application of their research and engaging with external players users/industrial partners/wider publics (e.g. in co-design activities). This was addressed as students developed RRI plans in the course of their projects in years 2-4. RRI was delivered through a range of methods including formal lecture based courses and through small group work (e.g. around values in design and co-design). It would be useful to consider teaching methods and also intended learning outcomes.

RRI scholars are keen to go beyond simply offering service teaching and to undertake somekinds of action research. This might seek to establish whether RRI activities are making a difference in terms of the socialisation of science and engineering (e.g. attitudes and orientation of students and supervisors). A central feature of this community is an emphasis on reflective practice and many colleagues have been actively considering the conflicts and contradictions that may accompany these efforts. Thus scholars in the field are concerned to avoid being cast into a particular role (e.g. of running ELSI assessment or public engagement exercises). This may be facilitated by creative engagements between specialists in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, with cognate groups in Law, Ethics, Business Schools and also more widely – for example the creative engagements with artists (e.g. the Synthetic Aesthetics project with synthetic biologists) – let alone technical specialists in STEM subjects.

Future meetings are planned with a view to establishing a network devoted to this issue. Please do contact Robin Williams, (, if you are interested in joining this initiative. 

The Matter of Facts: Skepticism, Persuasion, and Evidence in Science Gareth Leng and Rhodri Ivor Leng MIT Press (2020)

This new book is worth a look – written by STS scholar Rhodri Leng and his father, an experimental physiologist – and there’s a useful summary in today’s Nature (good to see the journal happy to publish this sort of reflexive, critical text). Read the review here

AsSIST-UK virtual workshop

Join us in this virtual workshop to explore how Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) can contribute towards our understanding of the pandemic and future possibilities.

Report from the seminar (click to download)


Eva Giraud is Senior Lecturer at Keele University. Among Eva’s research interests is non-anthropocentric theoretical work, which explores ways of thinking and acting in the world that move beyond human exceptionalism.

Reiner Grudmann is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Nottingham and Director of its interdisciplinary STS Research Priority Group. Reiner’s main research interest is the relation between knowledge and decision making.

Michael Schillmeier is Professor of Sociology at the University of Exeter, UK and was a Schumpeter-Fellow of the VolkswagenStiftung. Michael’s work is concerned with the becoming of social relations, actors, practices and concerns whereby the ‘non-normal’ plays a central part.

Andy Stirling is Professor of Science and Technology at SPRU Sussex and co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre. Andy’s work aims to contribute to ‘democratising progress’ towards equal societies, distributed power and sustainability.

Annie Wilkinson is a Research Fellow in anthropology and health systems research at the IDS in Sussex. Annie conducts interdisciplinary, participatory and applied research on health in LMICs and has expertise in zoonotic disease, epidemic preparedness and control.