Building bridges between parliament and science

‘Fact-free politics is of no use to anyone. To build bridges across the swirling waters that divide these two worlds, we need solid bridgeheads with a deep knowledge base. This requires politicians to understand the workings and natural limitations of science, and to grasp its intrinsic uncertainties. Politicians must learn to have 100% faith in researchers who say they are 50% sure of something. Researchers, in turn, need to realise how much pressure politicians are under to make choices and take decisions based on what can sometimes be very limited information and generalisations. This is where there is a gap between professional doubters and professional deciders.’

(Robbert Dijkgraaf, President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) at the launch of the Parliament & Science pilot, November 2011)

The background to the Parliament & Science partnership was the House of Representatives’ desire to strengthen its knowledge position as expressed in the report Vertrouwen en zelfvertrouwen [Trust and Self-trust] (November 2009). Science organisations provide scientific knowledge to the committees of the House of Representatives at the right time and in the right form.
The collaboration began in 2011 with a pilot phase, was formalised in 2014, and was intensified in 2019. Since 1 January 2019, there has been a full-time Parliament & Science liaison officer who – with support from the science organisations – works closely with staff of the Analysis and Research Department, such as the Knowledge Coordinators.

Pilot phase: 2011 – 2014

The Parliament & Science pilot was launched in November 2011 with the aim of exploring ways of giving scientific information a place in the parliamentary process. Two Standing Committees tested six tools for doing so. As a result of the early parliamentary elections in 2012, the pilot ran for longer than planned. Three of the tools proved successful: the network survey, the scientific fact sheet, and the breakfast meeting.

On 1 October 2014, five chairpersons signed the Parliament & Science Agreement in the Smoking Salon of the old House of Representatives building

Phase 1: 2014 – 2018

In 2014, it was decided to consolidate the collaboration. The official launch was marked by a festive gathering on 1 October 2014. The collaboration arrangements were set out in an agreement. From then on, all House Committees could utilise the services of the science organisations, which acted in rotation as a helpdesk.

New working method of the House of Representatives

As of 1 September 2017, the House of Representatives implemented organisational changes to strengthen its knowledge position. This was prompted by the report of the Laision Group on Reinforcing the House’s Knowledge and Research Role. The Liaison Group comprised four MPs, who in November 2016 issued the advisory report Knowledge is Power. House Committees now have a knowledge coordinator and an information specialist, seconded from the Analysis and Research Department. Each House Committee also draws up a knowledge agenda for the new calendar year, comprising topics on which additional knowledge needs to be acquired, and it has a budget for procuring knowledge. These changes prompted the science organisations to increase their commitment.

Phase III: 2019 onwards

The science organisations increased their commitment from 0.5 FTE (as per the agreement) to 1.5 FTEs and appointed a full-time Parliament & Science liaison officer. The number of science organisations has also been increased: TNO joined the partners in early 2019 and the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) in early 2020.