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Climate Change: Bringing science and policy closer

By Daniel Ryan, research coordinator on sustainability, Postgraduate School of Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires.

Daniel Ryan (1)How to facilitate the integration of science into policy processes? Under what conditions scientific knowledge is more likely to affect policymaking? These are some of the questions raised by decision-makers, practitioners and researchers working on the interface between science and public policy. These are also critical question for strengthening the integration of climate change considerations into decision-making processes regarding infrastructure, investments, land planning as well as many other policy fields. This article briefly addresses three key issues that will help the reader have a better understanding of the complexities and challenges of bringing science and policy closer.

Barriers. Different type of problems affect science – policy relationships and hinder the integration of scientific knowledge into policy decision-making processes. Practitioners and researchers working on this field usually highlight the following three barriers. First, there are communication problems between scientific and policy communities. Scientific research results are not easily translated into a language and format that can feed the public debate and meet the information and knowledge needs of the different stakeholders involved in policy processes. Second, scientific research and policymaking have different focuses and timelines. Public policy processes are strongly shaped by the times and demands of political cycles, which do not necessarily agree with the logics and times of scientific processes. Third, there are tensions between scientific and technological knowledge (“expert” knowledge) and other systems of knowledge and values (local knowledge, indigenous communities knowledge, users´ knowledge, etc.). This is a particularly relevant issue in relation to climate change adaptation. The failure to effectively combine scientific knowledge with local knowledge can affect the design and implementation of climate adaptation policies, which are generally territorially based. As mentioned above, these are just some of the main problems identified by the literature, which highlights the complexity of the science – policy relations.photo science and policy closer (1)

Models of intersection between science and policy. Traditionally, the relationship between science and policy has been conceived as a rational and linear process, whereby new scientific knowledge is channeled to the public sphere and expected to be adopted by policymakers. This view is based on certain assumptions that, today, are strongly questioned. For example, it assumes that there is a clear delimitation between knowledge producers (experts, researchers) and knowledge users, and that the relationship between research and the policy process is unidirectional. Arguably, this type of approach to the science-policy interface is at the root of many of the tensions and barriers identified in the previous paragraph. In response to these problems, in recent decades, researchers and practitioners have developed more dynamic and complex views to address the science-policy interfaces: they stress the relevance of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to address wicked public issues as well as the need for stakeholders’ involvement in the very process of knowledge production.

New roles. Under these approaches, institutions and actors acting at the intersection between science and public policy acquire special importance. Accordingly, the specialized literature speaks of “intermediate organizations”, “boundary organizations”, “knowledge brokers” and other similar concepts. Beyond their differences, all these terms refer to institutions and actors that generally serve as articulators between the needs and logics of the research and the policy communities. Furthermore, they are characterized by working across different disciplines and sectors, and facilitating the co-production of knowledge between scientists and users of research results. Clearly, this poses important challenges to national scientific systems, and particularly to universities. It requires revisiting the ways scientific knowledge is produced, organized and integrated, as well as the formation and training of human resources that can assume these knowledge brokers roles in relation to climate change.

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