The OPMCSA has a small team that provides science-based evidence to the Prime Minister to inform the programme of government. The OPMCSA may also assist Cabinet Ministers with requests for science advice.
Advice from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor
This can be provided in three different ways:
- In response to an informal, sometimes confidential request – in person, direct to the PM and/or Ministers.
- In response to a request from the PM and/or Ministers – a formal letter containing a quick scan of the relevant literature on a topic of interest, by way of quickly providing advice and scoping an issue for possible future comprehensive research.
- A full and comprehensive report on a well scoped topic. This will generally become publicly available and could be:
- Initiated by the PMCSA with agreement from the PM
- Initiated by the PM as part of the core work plan
- Commissioned as a separate project by a Minister
In addition, there are often ‘hot topics’ that emerge due to a rapidly changing research landscape and/or particular public interest. The office will keep a watching brief on these topics and produce clear information summaries from time to time which are uploaded onto the PMCSA website, after prior distribution to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers, on a no surprises basis.
Wide consultation in the first one hundred days of her tenure has led to the PMCSA developing a list of topics where a piece of evidence synthesis would likely to be useful to inform the programme of government. We have done a preliminary categorisation of these topics into areas where evidence synthesis is required in a major project, and ‘hot topics’ where there is a large body of evidence available, but a clear summary of the current evidence would inform government and the public. We are now in the process of scoping and prioritising these, having had an initial discussion with the Prime Minister. This is a live document that will be updated regularly as priorities evolve here.
Our work programme
We keep a watching brief across all areas of science, and update our immediate priorities periodically in consultation with the Prime Minister. We avoid projects that overlap with other providers of science advice – e.g. the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Some major topics of interest are covered below
In 2019 we completed our first major report: Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Regulation of genetic technologies
In 2019, the Royal Society Te Apārangi released a comprehensive report on gene editing. Juliet provided commentary on the report for the Prime Minister.
Science advice in emergencies
In 2019 we provided advice after the Christchurch mosque shootings.
We also supported the response to the 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption.
Equity, diversity and inclusion in science
This is a major focus for 2019 and 2020, addressed by a collection of intern projects – including two that are Tairāwhiti-based. In 2019, we facilitated a series of hui focused on increasing Māori – and especially Māori rangatahi – participation in STEAM. This culminated in a special hui with Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.
We provided accessible information for the public at the request of the Prime Minister and Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.
A global public health emergency, pathogens are rapidly evolving resistance to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics.
We provide informal advice on request, e.g. on targets in the 2019 Zero Carbon Bill.
Legalisation of cannabis
This is an active project in 2019–2020. We are producing a public-facing summary of the evidence of harm reduction on legalisation of cannabis.
Adaptation to the zero carbon economy
Renewable energy is a focus of several small intern projects aligned with the office.
Environmental measures and the wellbeing framework
We are currently scoping a project for discussion with the Prime Minister in 2020, currently titled ‘The future of fishing: How might science and big data support our industries?‘
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI technology has many opportunities and implications for Aotearoa New Zealand. We are currently scoping projects on equity and education for discussion with the Prime Minister in the second half of 2020.
The internet and wellbeing
We are scoping a possible project for discussion with the Prime Minister for late 2020, titled ‘How is pornography influencing relationships for young kiwis?
Independent science advice to Standards NZ
We provide advice as required at the request of Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
Juliet sits on the Sensitive Technologies Working Group, chaired by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Defence Technology Advisory Board.
The future of food
Food, especially protein, is an important area from both public health and climate change perspectives. This topic relates to several workstreams across government but is not currently prioritised in our office.