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State Science and Technology Policy Advice: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges - Summary of a National Convocation 1 The Need for Science and Technology Policy Advice at the State Level In the past, cities and states became powerful in large part because of their locations, their access to natural resources, and the skills of their workforces. If a city was located next to a navigable river, it could build on its strengths as a transportation hub. If an area had plentiful coal or oil resources, it could become a center of energy production. In the United States today, the importance of location and natural resources has diminished. The vital factors that now generate comparative advantage are “created, not inherited,” said Doug Henton, the president of Comparative Economics and an expert on economic development at the national, regional, state, and local levels. For example, Silicon Valley was essentially a fruit-growing region, Henton pointed out, until a handful of companies initiated the microelectronics revolution there. Starbucks became successful when it developed a way of giving its customers an experience that would justify paying much more for coffee than if they made the coffee themselves. “It’s not just about technology,” said Henton. Today, value is created through talented people, an entrepreneurial culture, networks, world-class universities, and other institutional, cultural, and technological attributes. “It’s about the venture capitalists, it’s about the networks, it’s about the underlying support system—the lawyers, the accountants—all those people working together to create companies and take ideas to market,” Henton said. Talented people and a skilled workforce are the products of education, which is why good schools, colleges, and universities are so impor-
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State Science and Technology Policy Advice: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges - Summary of a National Convocation tant to the economic and social prospects of cities, states, and nations. Financial capital flows to wherever good ideas are located, and information is largely free and globally distributed in the age of Google. But “you have to have people who know how to use [information],” Henton said. “That’s the know-how—people who know how to put things together.” These trends will intensify in the 21st century. If the United States is to compete with other countries, it must do so on the basis of high-value products and services, “and that’s going to require innovation,” according to Henton. Routine work will be done by machines or by low-paid workers. For the United States to remain a high-wage country, it must be a center of innovation, in part through the education, training, and preparation of its workforce. The United States has had the strongest system of higher education in the world for more than half a century, said Karl Pister, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, chair of the Board of Directors for the California Council on Science and Technology, and Dean and Roy W. Carlson professor of engineering emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. The nation also has a very strong system of laboratories supported by the federal government. Universities and federal laboratories both have had great success transferring ideas and technologies to the private sector. But colleges, universities, and federal laboratories have had much less success providing scientific and technical advice to policy makers. “Providing sound science and technology policy advice in a form that is understandable and actionable by elected officials remains a challenge,” Pister said. This weakness is particularly evident at the state level. According to Richard Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California system, a “glaring failure” of the U.S. science and technology system has been “the absence of science and technology input at the state and regional level…. There is no end of examples of policies that have been established at the state level that have failed dramatically because they have not taken into account science and technology issues.”1 Yet science and technology are having an ever-greater influence on state policies. As Matt Sundeen, program principal of the National Conference of State Legislators said, “All the leading public policy issues have some sort of science component, whether it’s energy policy, stem cell research, or education. You can make a case that almost everything 1 An example of a national health policy that was compromised because science was not adequately considered is provided in this summary at the beginning of the section entitled “When Scientists Take a Stand” on page 48.
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State Science and Technology Policy Advice: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges - Summary of a National Convocation has some sort of science and technology component to it, and therefore [science and technology] should be important to state legislators.” These state policies, in turn, can have a dramatic influence on everyone’s lives. As the federal government becomes increasingly constrained because of other commitments and political disputes, states and localities have unprecedented opportunities to use science and technology in productive ways. “Now that I’m working at the state level in California, I realize that the policy decisions that really impact our personal lives and our schools and our communities happen at the state level,” said Donna Gerardi Riordan, director of programs of the California Council on Science and Technology, who worked at the National Research Council in Washington, DC, before moving to California. “Given that we have a rich resource of science and technology expertise in almost every community in the nation, there’s an opportunity to bring that expertise to bear on the decisions that affect all of us at a very local and very personal level.” People who are interested in science and technology have tremendous potential to influence state policies, but today that potential is largely unrealized. At the same time, many of the institutional structures and personal relationships needed to inject scientific and technological considerations into state policy making already exist. Participants at the convocation focused on how to use these structures and relationships to build a strong state science and technology policy advising system that could have great benefits for all citizens.
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