Under what conditions is science considered relevant and authoritative in policymaking?

by Professor Kathryn Oliver and Dr Warren Pearce

Front cover of report with abstract and acknowledgements
The British Academy
Number of pages


This report reflects the findings of one of the research projects funded by the British Academy under its Science, Trust and Policymaking project. The report contents are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Questions about the role of science in decision-making have come into sharp focus since the COVID-19 pandemic. Perceptions about science and decision-making vary widely amongst the public, and amongst scientific and policy communities themselves. What then can be done to create conditions which support greater trust in science in decision-making? Unpacking these factors helps us to understand how evidence is framed as both relevant and authoritative. In this report, we draw on an evidence synthesis, three case studies, a social media analysis and a series of workshops to explore the conditions which lead to science being considered relevant and authoritative in and for policymaking. We find that policymakers can influence the role of science in the way that they approach or present problems. However, members of the public may or may not be influenced by the ways policymakers choose to frame issues and will bring their own beliefs and values which influences what evidence they consider relevant. We find that use of science does not, in itself, increase trust in policy. Rather, people trust institutes, leaders, and processes which are seen to be competent, honest and fair. Focusing on how to build trustworthiness through these three domains is likely to be the most fruitful approach for scientists and policymakers wishing to increase trust in both science and policy.

Sign up to our email newsletters