Expanding the Science-Policy Interface to Confront Global Change
Society calls upon and funds science to help clarify and resolve numerous problems including those related to coupled human-environmental systems, biotechnology, poverty reduction, economic development, energy independence, healthcare, etc. Some argue science has not fulfilled expectations to help solve complex and pressing issues, like those that accompany global environmental change, largely because it has not responded to societal needs and priorities. Government agencies, international development organizations, companies from a variety of economic sectors, professional associations, non-profits, and academic institutions are confronting the challenges of strengthening the science-policy interface to better address the impacts of environmental change. The goal of this workshop is to foster new scholarship, practice, and institutional development that improves engagement between scientists, decision makers, and the public to address complex issues related to global environmental change.
To achieve this goal, the workshop will be built around three core questions:
1. Why is engagement imperative in the context of global change?
2. What new lessons have we learned about engagement, from both scholarship and practice, and what is outmoded?
3. How do we build institutions that support engagement and, in so doing, foster better outcomes like long term resilience in the face of dramatic environmental change?
In the U.S., the need for effective scientist-decision maker engagement is explicitly endorsed at the highest levels of national science policy-making, including the annual research and development priorities memo of the Executive Office for fiscal year 2017. The call from the Executive Office formalizes a long-standing recognition–among a minority of scientists and practitioners–that the public value of research activities may be enhanced through engagement between scientists and decision makers. Despite the growing recognition of the value of socially-engaged research, sound practice for engagement is not adequately considered in the design of new institutions, programs, and career development tracks. This gap illustrates a lack of formal learning in science policy and is critical because engagement and, specifically, co-production of knowledge are proving effective in adapting to global change.
Engagement between scientists and decision makers (science-policy interactions) occurs in different communities of research and practice. We identified three communities for this workshop: water; conservation; and urban planning. Across these cases, deliberate strategies have been employed to encourage decision maker-scientist engagement, including the formation of new organizations, innovative design of research projects, and training and education for professionals to participate in engagement efforts. Individual cases reveal several outcomes, including but not limited to: increased awareness of risk; information that enabled adaptation or resilience choices; exchange between decision makers from different sectors leading to more coordinated responses to natural resource impacts; and mediation for responsible use of science. These cases reinforce the imperative to support the science-policy interface, but also reinforce the need for institutional development. Specifically, we have initially defined the following goals based on recurrent themes in previous discussions:
• Building commitment to sustained and diverse institutional structures
• Identifying standards for organizational behaviors and practices at the interface
• Clarifying career paths for work at the interface
We assembled participants with understanding, expertise, and/or experience in engagement at the interface. In each of the case areas, we asked participants to examine these institutional demands or gaps.