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Chief Executive Update

The extraordinary events on and after 15 March brought home to me the tenuousness of what, in good times, most people have got used to thinking of as a stable, civilised society.

Throughout history, civilisation and society have experienced periods of both relative stability and instability. In our lifetimes, most of us have not seen massive disruptions of the types that some previous generations had to endure. Are we entering a period of relative instability, exacerbated by disruptive technologies like social media?

Things that cut at the fabric of who we are as a nation, and as a multi-cultural community, also emphasise the role of academies.  Going back 360 years, to when the first academies were formed, one part of the raison d’etre was recognition by those who espoused to be a nation’s intellectual leaders that they had a duty to all other people of the land to use their collective wisdom to help address important public issues. A very positive and worthwhile role, and one that endures!

In our case, the role manifests as our expert advice programme – whereby we summarise evidence on important public issues to improve understanding by both leaders and the public, with the goal of improving the way that those issues are progressed. With our modest resources, we can only have one major project going at one time (although we also aim to produce several smaller fact sheets per year).  Right now, we are winding down the multi-output project on gene editing, and commencing one on equality, equity and fairness. What is the evidence base for why some groups of people suffer disadvantage in modern society when opportunity may appear to be even? This is the type of questions the panel will seek to address. The decision to proceed to this project was taken some months ago, but the discourse of the last few days, including many stories of disadvantage, is a poignant reminder of the importance of this topic.

If we succeed on such projects, which are potentially immense in size and complexity for small groups of volunteer experts to undertake, then we authenticate the argument that academies remain as relevant in modern society as they were 360 years ago.

Andrew Cleland - Chief Executive Royal Society Te Apārangi

Royal Society Te Apārangi: 29 March