Economist Diane Coyle outlines her initial thoughts and research programmes starting as Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the Bennett Institute.
I have spent my career in the borderlands (or should it be no-man’s-land?) between research and policy. This territory linking the knowledge our societies produce with the decisions taken by policymakers is obviously important. Surely political and administrative decisions affecting the lives of millions of citizens should be as well-informed as possible? Yet this territory is becoming harder than ever to navigate.
One reason is the electoral and polling evidence of a chasm between the ‘elites’ and the rest. Many people do indeed feel ‘left behind’, whether in straightforward economic terms or in less tangible ways. It is pretty clear that they count university researchers among the elite (although this might come as a surprise to many of our colleagues in universities around the country). Politicians are responding to this particular aspect in their attacks on ‘experts’ and on higher education in general, despite the large contribution it makes to the economy and to all the towns and cities around the country that gain from the presence of a university.
A second reason is the continuing rapid pace of technological and social change, making modern societies increasingly complex and facing a deeply uncertain future. In his 1973 book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, Daniel Bell presciently warned that there could be conflict between democratic choice and technocratic expertise in complex technology-based economies. Innovation drives economic growth and ultimately living standards, but it is disruptive and therefore alarming. The new scientific discoveries and technologies need to be in some way accountable to society, or there surely will be a backlash.
This makes the launch of the Cambridge Institute for Public Policy timely. My colleague Mike Kenny has described already our priorities in research and training. As an economist, I plan to build on my existing research to address from several angles the question of economic progress: how should this be defined and measured? How can innovations be shaped or regulated to benefit the many, not the few? How can the necessary conversations between experts, policymakers and citizens take place?
These questions translate into some specific initial research programmes:
- Defining and measuring economic progress or well-being. This will be developing the ‘Measuring the Modern Economy’ strand of work on the digital economy I lead at the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence and exploring wider measures of well-being, as described in my Indigo Prize essay with Benjamin Mitra-Kahn.
- The social and economic impact of scientific and technological discovery. This has been an area of interest since I discovered the internet in the early 1990s and published my first book, The Weightless World. How prospective discoveries in fields ranging from AI to synthetic biology to advanced materials are diffused, which business and financing models will contribute both to commercial success and wide access, how the regulatory frameworks are to be shaped – all remain open questions for researchers and policymakers.
- Communication between researchers, officials and politicians, and citizens. Progress is not pre-determined; it does not occur without sufficient consent. What forms of evidence speak to those without the relevant technical expertise? The world seems awash with information, yet it needs to be represented in ways that serve social purposes and enable political consent and policy co-ordination.
An economist myself, I am an ardent advocate of CIPP’s interdisciplinary approach, and its focus on involving policy makers at the heart of the research we will do. There could not be a more exciting – or more important – time to be launching our work.
About the author
Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy
Professor Coyle co-directs the Institute with Professor Kenny. She is heading research under the progress and productivity themes. Learn more