Policy & Science: Who defines the problem?

By Samantha Dobbie, PGR Student, Institute for Complex Systems Simulation (ICSS), Centre for Environmental Sciences (CES)

Researchers of Southampton University projects and policy experts from around the world gathered in London last week to attend the workshop, Policy & Science: Who defines the problem? Susanna Thorp, Director of WRENmedia opened the workshop with a simple exercise in which participants met, spoke with and recalled facts concerning fellow attendees. The exercise was used to highlight the fact that “we can have great evidence, good data, but if it is not presented in a memorable way it won’t have impact”.

ws-group-photoOn the subject of policy and science – first to the floor was Guy Poppy, Professor of Ecology at the University of Southampton and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). After providing a brief introduction to ASSETS, a large ESPA funded project working with communities in Columbia, Malawi and Peru; Guy Poppy highlighted the need to consider policy pathways early on. Echoing this sentiment, Rob Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton spoke of the ESPA Deltas project and the use of an iterative learning loop, which incorporates participatory approaches involving diverse stakeholders to develop robust policies.

The morning session was topped off nicely with a keynote speech by Martina Padmanabhan. As Professor of Comparative Development and Cultural Research at the University of Passau, Germany – Martina Padmanabhan had been invited along as one of the editors of Cultivate Diversity! A Handbook on Transdisciplinary Approaches to Agrobiodiversity Research. Arguing that, “we need to say goodbye to science and policy as two independent domains”, she identified 5 key features of the interface, including: goals, structure, processes, outputs and outcomes. Successful interfaces were regarded to be those that possess credibility, relevance, legitimacy and dynamic interaction, while potential issues included: power conflicts, unclear goals and lack of resources. In order to overcome such pitfalls, Martina Padmanabhan called for, “co-design, co-creation and co-evaluation” of the science-policy interface.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion drawing upon examples, experiences and views from experts in Columbia, India, Malawi and the UK. The panel talk and discussion was guided by Gerry Stoker, Professor of Policy and Governance at the University of Southampton, UK. A number of interesting points were raised, including the need to:

  • Ensure researchers are asking the questions policy makers want the answer to,
  • Be honest about the values underpinning research and make sure they match policy
  • Acknowledge that showing something in aggregate data doesn’t mean it will make a good political decision
  • Overcome conflicting time-horizons of scientists and policy makers that can often pose problems,
  • Ensure continued engagement between scientists and policy makers – too often it’s the case that “We kiss and then we vanish”.

Finally, the afternoon session offered a great opportunity for scientists and policy makers to engage in conversation. Participants were divided into three working groups to discuss the overarching question: “How to manage the nexus of relationships between researchers funders and policy makers”. After a fruitful discussion, each of the groups came up with a number of action points including the need to celebrate science-policy advocates and ensure both scientists and decision makers are equipped with the skills to engage effectively. Wrapping up the day, Gerry Stoker thanked all involved but was keen to stress that the meeting hadn’t ended. After all, if the science-policy gap is to bridged and long-term engagement become the norm, we must continue as we mean to go on.

Presentations held at the workshop:

  • Keynote: Dialogue with Policy, Prof Martina Padmananbhan, University of Passau, Germany (pptx, 9.4 mb)
  • Introduction to the Deltas Project, Prof Rob Nicholls, University of Southampton, UK (pptx, 5.5 mb)
  • Introduction to the ASSETS Project, Prof Guy Poppy, University of Southampton, UK (pptx, 4.7 mb)
  • An example from Colombia, Luis Francisco Madriñán (PhD), Universidad del Rosario, Colombia (pptx, 8.2 mb)

Find more information about the workshop at the dedicated workshop page.

One Comment

  1. […] Stoker adds to the ideas captured in the recent blog about University of Southampton-led workshop on the relationship between science and […]

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