by Judith Curry
The need for policy makers to understand science and for scientists to understand policy processes is widely recognised. However, the science-policy relationship is sometimes difficult and occasionally dysfunctional; it is also increasingly visible, because it must deal with contentious issues, or itself becomes a matter of public controversy, or both. We suggest that identifying key unanswered questions on the relationship between science and policy will catalyse and focus research in this field.
A new paper has been published by PLoS-one entitled A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda, by William Sutherland and 51 co-authors. (h/t Bill Hooke).
Here is the meat of the paper: 40 questions, binned into six categories:
I. Understanding the role of scientific evidence in policymaking
- How do different political cultures and institutions affect the acquisition and treatment of scientific evidence in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation?
- How do scientists and policy makers recognise and convey the limitations of scientific advice?
- At what stages during the development of policy does scientific evidence have the greatest impact on the decisions made?
- Under what conditions does scientific evidence legitimise political decisions?
- What roles have science and other forms of expertise played in international governance regimes, such as the World Trade Organisation?
- Are there conditions under which scientific evidence may help resolve value-laden conflict and if so, what are those conditions?
- What factors affect the utility and legitimacy of formal decision support, assessment and evaluation tools, and their adoption (or otherwise) by policy makers?
- What influences the form and application of monitoring and evaluation practices in the development of policy informed by science?
II. Framing questions, sourcing evidence and advice, shaping research
- How do policy makers decide which questions they should ask their expert advisors and when in the policy cycle they should be asked?
- What are the most effective mechanisms for identifying the evidence required to inform policy-making on new and emerging problems?
- How, and with what consequences, have the sources of scientific evidence and advice used by policy makers changed over recent decades?
- In what ways do different political cultures shape the frameworks through which evidence and advice are sourced?
- In what circumstances are policy problems likely to require the inclusion of experts with conflicting views?
- When is it considered appropriate to consult experts with conflicting views, and what mechanisms can ensure that this takes place?
- What factors influence whether different disciplines are included effectively when defining and addressing complex policy problems?
- What are the mechanisms by which budgetary pressures and societal constraints on policy-making influence the prioritisation and funding of research?
- What is the effectiveness of different techniques for anticipating future policy issues requiring science input?
III. Advisory systems and networks
- How are national science advisory systems constructed and to what extent do different systems result in different outcomes?
- How and why does the role of scientific advice in policy-making differ among local, regional, national and international levels of governance?
- Which commissioning and operational arrangements lead to the most effective use of science in policy-making?
- Policy makers typically use networks of experts, formal and informal. How does the structure and composition of such networks influence the outcomes of decision making?
- How do different ways of using and organising in-house scientific expertise affect the quality and use of scientific evidence and advice in policy-making?
- What are the consequences of different approaches to institutionalising, professionalising and building capacity in the exchange of knowledge between science and policy?
- How can the effectiveness of knowledge-brokering  be assessed?
IV. Policy making under conditions of uncertainty and disagreement
- How is agreement reached on what counts as sufficient evidence to inform particular policy decisions?
- How is scientific evidence incorporated into representations of, and decision-making about, so-called “wicked” problems, which lack clear definition and cannot be solved definitively?
- Can distinctions be made in scientific advice between facts and values; to the extent that this is possible, how effective are policy makers in distinguishing them and what factors influence their effectiveness?
- How can risks, and the associated uncertainties, complexities, ambiguities and ignorance, be effectively characterised and communicated?
- How do policy makers understand and respond to scientific uncertainties and expert disagreements?
- Do different approaches to building consensus, or illuminating lack of consensus, result in different consequences for policy and, if so, why?
V. Democratic governance of scientific advice
- What factors (for example, openness, accountability, credibility) influence the degree to which the public accept as trustworthy an expert providing advice?
- What governance processes and enabling conditions are needed to ensure that policymaking is scientifically credible, while addressing a perceived societal preference for policy processes that are more democratic than technocratic?
- How might the attitudes and values of diverse publics relating to science and technology, and their governance, be incorporated effectively into debates about the use of evidence in policy-making?
- What has been the influence of scrutinising institutions, such as those of legislative bodies (e.g. Parliament, Congress, National Assembly or Bundestag) on the roles of science in policy-making?
- What are the implications for their effectiveness of opening up expert advisory processes to different forms of transparency?
- What are the implications for science-policy relations, and for the democratisation of science, of novel methods of engagement and dissemination (such as citizen science, and new media technologies, including social media)?
VI. How do scientists and policy makers understand expert advisory processes?
- What factors shape the ways in which scientific advisors and policy makers make sense of their own and each other’s roles in the policy process?
- How and why have the conceptual models of science-policy relations held by policy makers, scientists and other stakeholders changed over time, and with what consequences?
- How is guidance on the handling and communication of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity interpreted by policy makers, and what impact do their views have on the uptake and implementation of recommendations?
- What impact has research on the relationship between science and policy actually had on science policy?
JC comment: This is one of the most profound things I’ve seen on the science-policy interface. With regards to the dysfunction at the climate science-policy interface, it seems that these questions aren’t even asked. The assumption by the climate establishment was discussed in this previous post, where there seems to be the assumption
A + B = C
- A: scientific and disciplinary knowledge
- B: impacts of A, communication of A and impacts, and translation A for policy makers
- C: policy
The categories that I find here of greatest interest and relevance to the climate science-policy interface are
- Policy making under conditions of uncertainty and disagreement
- Democratic governance of scientific advice