The Home Office Science Advisory Council is now benefiting from the expertise and insight of Dr Gabriella Spinelli, a Reader in Innovation at Brunel University London who has joined HOSAC to generate evidence-based advice that will inform the UK government department’s policy-making.
Brunel Design School’s Dr Spinelli was one of four new members who took up their positions in May, joining HOSAC’s select group of scientific advisors and the Home Office staff who seek their advice on a wide variety of topics.
Established in 2003, HOSAC’s main function is to provide the Home Office’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Jennifer Rubin, with independent advice on maximising the quality of the science and research that informs strategic delivery and policy development.
A computer scientist by background, Dr Spinelli’s research involves analysing, evaluating and redesigning complex systems and products to make people’s lives better, such as in patients’ experience of healthcare and community resilience. “The evidence HOSAC seeks is not always generated by one’s research, but the collaborative effort of HOSAC members engaging with thematic priority projects,” she said.
Dr Spinelli explained that HOSAC is keen on the scientific approach to evidence generation and evaluation. “It seeks to form teams of experts from its membership and in collaboration with Home Office staff to gather and connect evidence, to critically evaluate them, to identify gaps in knowledge and to set collaborations with other government departments. This multidisciplinary approach is necessary to tackle complex global challenges.”
HOSAC focuses on responding to current issues of high priority to the Home Office, such as the work led by Prof Rubin on how the rising popularity of 3D-printing technology can increase the risk of DIY gun production. HOSAC has also a proactive role in selecting strategic themes that are of interest to its members and of value to the department – for example, the role of technologies in post-Brexit ports of entry.
Her membership will require up to 20 days a year of her time for an initial period of four years, with the possibility of extending her role up to a decade, according to the needs of the council. She was appointed to this role after a competitive process which started with her responding to a vacancy notice and culminated in her presenting to Prof Rubin’s panel about generating and reviewing evidence for neighbourhoods policing and community resilience.
On the day of her interview, Dr Spinelli, who is keenly interested in user-centred design, also spoke about the problems she had personally encountered with applying for the EU Settlement Scheme after Brexit. “Initially the process was launched only for Android phones, resulting in some applicants borrowing other people’s phones and sharing very personal details such as passports,” she said. “This caused a delay in people registering for the scheme. Accessibility, usability and inclusion requirements should be set at the very early stage of system design, to ensure adoption.”
Dr Spinelli was appointed, but stresses that roles like HOSAC membership should be within the grasp of anyone who has rigorous scientific method and the right motivations.
“I think this starts with your PhD,” she said. “Regardless of the domain in which you conduct your research, those scientific methods of looking at what is available, scanning the horizon, identifying gaps in the evidence, and leading to the proposition that you can make in order to fill the gap – all this helps you innovate, improve, evaluate, and so on.
“I wanted to be a member of HOSAC because I want to represent women in generally male-dominated STEM environments, and also to gain a comprehensive understanding of the whole impact of scientific research and evidence on policy-making, from my perspective as a researcher but also from the government point of view. I was also attracted to the opportunity to be part of a government advisory team that is not politicised. Being a member of HOSAC is also another personal way to contribute to the country I’ve lived in for 25 years.”
Prof Hua Dong, Dean of the Brunel Design School, added her congratulations. “Gabriella brings inclusive thinking to her research projects, and has collaborated well with stakeholders ranging from NHS Trusts to industrial partners and beyond,” she said. “Becoming a member of HOSAC means that Gabriella’s skills can have an even wider effect, which is prestigious for her and for the University – and beneficial for the country.”
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Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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