Meet the Researcher: Jess Bland

08 July 2022

Jess Bland, Deputy Director 

Jess has a background in science and technology policy, including working at the Dubai Future Foundation, the Royal Society and Nesta. She is interested in bringing technical expertise into public debate through programmes like the World Majlis at Expo 2020. Jessica was principal at School of International Futures until 2021, where she led strategic foresight projects for governments and NGOs. Her research interests include the ethics of technology innovation, working most recently with Professor Jodi Halpern at Berkeley. She has a Masters in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford and an MSc in Science Communication from Imperial College London.

Jess joined CSER in 2021 to support a team that had grown to over 20. As deputy director, she has oversight of the operations of the centre including finance, HR, communications and fundraising. As of mid-2022, here is a bit about the role and particular interests that Jess would be keen to explore with a wider audience.

What does this mean in practice?

As CSER matures from a successful start-up to a sustained effort to mitigate global catastrophic risk, there are a couple of interesting challenges that Jess spends a lot time grappling with: how to build a research centre that allows diverse interests to flourish, but which remains focused on impact; and how to design research approaches that meet Cambridge’s standards for rigour while also delivering real change in the world. 
So please get in touch about operational models for dispersed and diverse teams, what you think CSER should prioritise and how we should work with other organisations. 

What interests are you continuing at CSER?

Jess has a background in science and technology policy, including working at the Dubai Future Foundation, Nesta and the Royal Society. Highlights include working directly on science policy with Chinese and US colleagues, as well as delivering the study Science as an Open Enterprise. At Nesta, she produced Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow- a defence of contemporary futures thinking and an update in 2016 titled Using our knowledge of the workings of human memory to create alternative futures

Jess’s interest in how buzz or hype motivates technology policy and investment can be understood through her Guardian posts and commentaries at Nesta and on tech policy internationally.

Jess was principal at School of International Futures until summer 2021, where she focused on clients using foresight tools to understand technology transformation, particularly for the defence, nuclear disarmament, security and intelligence communities. 

At CSER, she is taking the opportunity of attending the 2022 Kalus Tshira Symposium on Knowledge and Space to develop a position on the extreme challenges of governing small communities with data from very large technologies, namely when satellite data is the source of decisions for local responses to potential catastrophe. Previous work on space policy includes the Insights from Space Week report on global space alliances and trends from 2021 and the Millennium People in Space workshop speculating on future uses of small satellites in 2014.

She is also a member of the expert advisory group for the UK’s Government Office of Science project on Risk and Resilience. 

So please get in touch about the governance of long term transformational technology, particularly in settings where those making decisions are distant from those affected. 

Jess is also interested in bringing technical expertise into public debate, working on projects like FutureFest, the Museum of the Future and the World Majlis at Expo 2020

She is enjoying reflecting on this experience and writing a chapter on responsible future-making in international events as part of a network of researchers convened by UNESCO concerned with responsible anticipation of what could happen in the long term. 

She also plans to host a public lecture and seminar in Autumn 2022 on two related tensions: between making vivid images of the future and supporting people to form their own imaginaries; and between ensuring knowledge counts in decisions and the biases about what gets counted rather than forgotten or sidelined. 

So please get in touch about running interactive workshops on technical topics in a way that reflects and respects very different ways of understanding that topic - how to curate an engaging experience without excluding quieter, more fragile ideas. 

You can find Jess’s email on her profile page and she is @pesska on Twitter. 

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