ASU’s CSPO ranked one of the world’s top think tanks for science and tech policy

February 15, 2019

Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO), a research unit of the Institute for the Future of Innovation in Society, has once again been named one of the top 10 think tanks for science and technology policy in the latest edition of the University of Pennsylvania’s “Global Go To Think Tank Index.”

This is the third consecutive year that CSPO has been ranked in ninth place and the fifth consecutive year it has appeared in the top 10. The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania — with the voting help of a panel of peers and experts from media, academia, public- and private-donor institutions and governments — publishes the annual index ranking the world’s leading think tanks in a variety of categories. Download Full Image

“I’m proud of this acknowledgment from our peers who participate in the rankings,” said Dave Guston, co-director of CSPO and director of ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “And (I'm) remarkably pleased for the efforts of our faculty, staff and students that go into all the fine work that those peers have recognized.”

“One thing that really distinguishes us from other think tanks is our focus on public engagement,” said Daniel Sarewitz, CSPO co-founder and co-director. “We’re deeply committed to the idea that citizens should have a role in helping to steer powerful new technologies toward a better future for all.”

Founded in 1999, CSPO also sits at the core of the research and policy engagement activities of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, which was created in 2015. CSPO is dedicated to understanding the linkages between science and technology and their effects on society. CSPO develops knowledge and tools that can more effectively connect science and technology to progress toward desired societal outcomes.

Notable recent projects that have solidified the consortium’s thought-leadership status include:

  • Citizen perspectives on driverless vehicles: Technological innovation is a powerful force for social change, yet it is rarely subject to focused, anticipatory democratic deliberation. In recent decades, however, tools for steering technological change in democratically responsive ways have been developed, tested and, to a limited degree, deployed. CPSO worked with the Kettering Foundation to create a guide for citizens to discuss their perspectives on a transformative technology: self-driving vehicles.
  • Democratic governance of solar geoengineering research: CSPO engaged a diverse group of citizens to inform decision-making about research into solar geoengineering. A controversial option for combating the effects of climate change, solar geoengineering could have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for life on Earth. This project focused on citizen values and concerns as a necessary input to the decisions and governance of potential geoengineering research programs.
  • New Tools for Science Policy: The breakfast seminar series hosted by CSPO catalyzed discussions and collaborations between science policy researchers and decision-makers. Recent topics included bringing public perspectives into large-scale energy projects, citizen rights in the age of surveillance and how data users factor into the development of NASA space missions.
  • "Issues in Science and Technology": Published in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the University of Texas at Dallas, the journal features the nation’s best writing on policy related to science, technology and medicine. The quarterly publication provides insightful commentary from leaders on critical policy topics not covered elsewhere: reforming STEM higher education, space policy and regulation, technological change and the future of work.
  • The Rightful Place of Science: The book series explores complex issues related to science and technology in brief, readable volumes. Jargon-free and perfect for students, professionals or the public, this innovative series delivers thought-provoking ideas on the complex interactions among science, technology, politics and society. Recent topics include new science policy tools, knowledge system organization and disasters and climate change.  

Upcoming projects in 2019:

  • Navigating Our Shared Autonomous Futures: A large-scale, multicity, global public consultation project on the development and adoption of autonomous mobility. Building on earlier citizen engagement work in the United States and France, this project will provide informed, deliberative, diverse and useful public views and values to stakeholders in government, industry, academic and nongovernmental sectors. CSPO’s ambitious vision, in collaboration with its Paris-based partner Missions Publiques, is to host 100-person public forums in 25 cities each in North America and Europe in the summer of 2019.
  • The Future of the Internet: This global debate will explore citizen perspectives on a technology that has transformed how people communicate, shop, learn and work. It will engage hundreds of nonexpert citizens, creating an unprecedented opportunity for the public to contribute to the evolution of this vital technology.

The consortium draws on the intellectual resources of ASU and other institutions for the scholarly foundation to assess and foster outcome-based policies across a broad portfolio. CSPO’s core commitment is to generate useable knowledge for real-world decision-making in order to better align those decisions with positive social outcomes.

Read the 2018 Global Go To Think Tank Index.

Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing Strategy, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


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Panama study abroad gives students research experience

February 15, 2019

Last chance.

The words jumped off the page.

And for senior Nicholas Ambus, those words turned into the chance of a lifetime. As a freshman at Arizona State University with no research experience, Ambus, a biological sciences major, stumbled across an email advertising a final chance to apply for the Experimental Tropical Biology course in Central America. He seized the chance to try something new.

“It seemed really enticing to me,” Ambus said of the program. “With the hands-on experience, the travel, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.” He signed up and began a journey that would change his perspective on science and enrich his undergraduate experience.

He spent nearly a month in a Panamanian rain forest walking through towering jungles, discovering tropical wildlife and beginning his first-ever scientific research project.

He initially wanted to study resources in streams, such as leaves that drop from surrounding trees, but became more interested in how fish affect a stream’s ecosystem. He was so interested in the project that he continued the research with desert fish species in Professor John Sabo’s lab after he returned to Arizona. Ultimately, his research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Ecology of Freshwater Fish.

Ambus isn’t alone. Since the Tropical Biology study abroad course began in 2014, about 12 students each summer have participated. Like Ambus, the students joining the program didn’t have previous research experience. However, many leave with projects published in peer-reviewed journals. From last summer’s group, half are submitting their projects for publication.

That’s the entire point of the class, said School of Life Sciences Professor Jon Harrison, who has directed the program the last three years.

“When we started the tropical biology study abroad program in Panama for the first time, that was always our goal: It’s all about the projects,” Harrison said. “There are no tests. Students get interested in something and come up with a project. At the end, they present it. That’s the core of the course.”

Along with life sciences Professor Juergen Liebig, Harrison is leading another group of BIO 494 students into the rainforest this summer from June 4-21. Students take the course at a biological field station operated by the renowned Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. During their time abroad, they’ll hike through the rainforest, eat Panamanian meals cooked by a local chef and, well, do lots of research.

For Ambus, that meant heading out to streams to dig through dirt, looking for fish. For senior Lauren Welch, who completed the course last summer, that meant following leaf cutter ants and measuring their leaf mass at different times of day. For other students, it meant watching hummingbirds at feeders, measuring plants, finding frog eggs in puddles or counting the number of animal species along the main road that runs through the research station.

“It’s a lot more involved than you would imagine,” Welch said of her project. “You go in thinking, yeah, I’ll just come up with a quick idea and then execute it, but it was much more involved than that.”

Students first submit a few ideas for research projects. Once they develop an idea, they submit a proposal. Then they collect the data. At the end of the class, they present their results to the class.

However, for many students, they are so inspired by the research, it doesn’t end there.

Nearly a year later, Welch and three other students from last summer’s program, undergraduate students Tess Prendergast, Nhu Nguyen and Melissa Hayhurst, still meet with Harrison every other week to discuss progress on the articles they are writing about their projects. They call the group “Publish That Research.”

“We’re all learning from each other,” Welch said. “We’ll go in and help each other with statistical analysis or how we should write our introduction. As a group, we discuss ideas. We compile papers that might be useful for everyone. It makes it a lot easier to get things done. I don’t feel so alone.”

Whether continuing in research or ending it after the six-week course, many students agree it changed the way they think about science.

“It changed my appreciation for science entirely because if you look at my research, it may seem insignificant to someone who doesn’t understand,” Ambus said. “I made measurements of excretion from very specific fish in a very specific ecosystem, but it’s really broadened my perspective on how everything matters and everything goes into a larger understanding of all these greater interconnected parts.”

This is just one of the many experiences offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, which has 250-plus programs in more than 65 different countries.

Students interested in the Experimental Tropical Biology course must apply by March 1. Cost is $4,385, which includes tuition, room and board, insurance and day trips to historical and cultural sites around Panama.

Top photo: ASU student Daniel Karstetter works on his research in Panama, studying hydraulic forces on driftwood. Photo by Jon Harrison/ASU

Melinda Weaver

Communications specialist , School of Life Sciences