The Rothschild Report (1971) and the Purpose of Government-Funded R&D — A Personal Account
9 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 2016
In 1971, (Lord) Victor Rothschild, reported to Government on “The Organisation and Management of Government R&D” and how government could become (in his words) a customer for research contracted from the Research Councils and other sources. Rothschild’s thinking implied that management of R&D by “customer” Departments would bring an understanding of research outputs. He proposed the transfer of applied science funds from Research Councils to Government Departments, providing each with a Chief Scientist as proxy customer for research to be commissioned on a “customer/contractor” basis. The Government largely adopted his proposals in 1972 and implemented them in 1974. The Rothschild reforms and the upheavals they brought were controversial at the time, though now in some instances, reversed and otherwise either forgotten or buried in unconscious assumptions. However, the Rothschild framework still underpins important assumptions about Departmental relationships with the science community, which in my view adversely affected the access of Government to expert advice. From the viewpoint of a participant in Government R&D management through this period, I explore the immediate response and the post-1980 history of the Rothschild reforms, discuss the way in which research commissioning became such a heavy task as to impede analysis and advice delivery, and consider alternative approaches, such as the “science broker” model. This article is published as part of a collection on scientific advice to governments.
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