Profile: Ian Lambie, Chief Science Adviser for the justice sector

Ian LambieTēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, katoa

My name is Ian Lambie and I am the newly appointed chief science adviser for the justice sector. I thought that it would be good to start with a brief introduction about myself and how I see my role developing across the sector.

I am the inaugural appointment, starting in December 2015. I will spend 40 percent of my time in the justice sector and the remainder at the University of Auckland.

I was born and raised in Dunedin. My career began as a comprehensive nurse in acute psychiatric and surgical nursing in Dunedin, Auckland and Sydney. From this work I gained an interest in psychology and completed an undergraduate degree at Otago University. Following this, I moved to Auckland where I trained as a clinical psychologist at the University of Auckland, graduating in 1990. Upon registration I worked intensively with adolescent sexual offenders for over 15 years, using wilderness-based group therapy within a family therapy agency (the Leslie Centre). In its day it was considered pioneering work. It was what I referred to as “psychology in the real world”, and while it was not everyone’s cup of tea I loved the challenge and the opportunity to work with young people in a natural environment. I then returned to University and completed a PhD on adult sexual offenders and male survivors of sexual abuse.

I continued working with youth offenders until I accepted a lecturing position at the university teaching clinical and forensic psychology. During this time, I have been a member of the Independent Advisory Group on youth offending chaired by Judge Becroft and, more recently, the Youth Crime Action Plan (YCAP); both part of the Ministry of Justice. To date, I continue to work closely with Police, Fire Service, Child, Youth and Family and the Ministry of Education in consultative, clinical and supervisory roles. I am currently on the Board and Clinical Advisory Group of SAFE Network in Auckland – the community programme providing treatment for sexual offenders in Northland, Auckland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty. I am also on the Clinical Advisory Group of Youth Horizons Trust.

Most of my research has been in the area of sexual offenders and youth offenders – arson, violent and sexual offenders – and this mirrors my clinical work. Throughout my time at the university I have considered it an important principle that if you are going to teach clinical psychology it is vital to continue to practice as a psychologist. In addition, clinical practice has allowed me to fully understand the true reality of the work. I believe it is important to work clinically and be informed by evidence-based practice which includes clinical and research knowledge. I bring to my role as science advisor both academic and practical perspectives.

The role of science advisor is a new appointment. The team is led by Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. There are science advisors appointed for Ministry of Social Development, Health, Education, Environment, Conservation, and Ministry for Primary Industries.

The role was borne from recognising the value in the better use of evidence-based research in government, and how in translating this research it can be applied and used productively across government ministries.

Reducing the gap between research and policy will require ongoing engagement of the scientific and policy community, and that of the public, which in turn will work towards effecting trust and ongoing credibility. I see my role as a conduit for the synthesising and interpretation of scientific data, to inform policy and stimulate discourse within these communities. The justice sector science advisor will primarily operate across the justice sector but I will be striving for a collaborative working approach across the social sector which will afford the opportunity for our vulnerable communities to be intensively supported in areas such as health and education, as well as justice. Working with the other three science advisors from the social sector will enhance cross-ministry work and assist in raising the profile of relevant projects and the importance of using data to guide policy.

In my role I will be providing visibility across the sector’s research programme and collaborating with sector leadership on current work to improve the sector’s policy capability and use of knowledge. I will also be working with the Justice Sector Leadership Board and with sector agencies to promote and guide the development and better use of shared knowledge across the sector. I will aim to ensure that the sector has the best evidence base possible, and that this is appropriately integrated into policy development and advice to government.

Reviewing the budget bids to treasury is one example of the work science advisors in the social sector have been undertaking. Other examples of work include providing feedback on the crime and safety survey, input into the interagency strategy to reduce the number of Mäori in the justice system and youth court jurisdiction. The justice sector is currently developing a number of investment briefs and I am working with others in a cross sector to support and enhance this work. The advisors are also providing feedback on the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) which combines information from a range of ministries (such as health and education data) to provide the insights government needs to improve social and economic outcomes for New Zealanders. With all personal information removed, the IDI gives a safe view across government so agencies can deliver better services to the public and ensure investment is made where it’s needed most. Integrated data is particularly useful to help address complex social issues such as crime and vulnerable children. This has a direct impact on the work in the Department of Corrections. Other work I intend to focus on includes ways of addressing the increasing incarceration rate and looking at what short-term options may be available to address this.

Finally, living in Auckland (and having existing relationships with Police and the Department of Corrections Psychological Services) will enable me to also promote interagency work across our biggest city. Auckland has one third of New Zealand’s recorded crime and any significant changes in volumes in Auckland will make a considerable contribution to achieving Better Public Services targets. The government is also focused on Auckland from a Better Public Services perspective and my role will assist in how we better use data to achieve this.

It is a privilege to be part of such an eminent group and I look forward to working alongside others in the justice sector, supporting and enhancing the enormous contribution you already make.