Starting conversations at the science-policy interface

Having conversations rather than talking at each other is the advice from a recent paper reviewing the current dialogue between scientists and policy makers in relation to biodiversity issues. Despite many initiatives existing to facilitate the integration of science and policy on this issue, the authors argue that much still needs to be done if successful progress and truly impactful dialogue is to be had.

Communicating science to policy makers and policy to scientists can be a bit of a complicated business. As is often the case, common misconceptions can occur, particularly when thinking about how each influence the other and how their different processes work. One of these biggest misconceptions when thinking about the science-policy interface is that science policy communication follows a ‘linear model’.

This model assumes that policy makers pose questions which scientists then feed in the appropriate evidence, and from this policy makers then make well informed decisions. However, as the paper points out, this is rarely the case. Both science and policy are complex areas and neither are straightforward in their approaches to solving their problems. So, when considering the plight of biodiversity, how can science and policy be better linked up to address these misconceptions and tackle biodiversity loss appropriately?

A simple part of the solution is two way dialogue and not just presenting knowledge (to either party) in the hope that it gets taken on board. Taking the time to develop relationships and facilitate interactions are important aspects of communication that can often be forgotten about yet are important when trying to influence or initiate change or new directions.

One of the key challenges that can hinder two way interactions however is that of ‘silo thinking’. This concept has been around for a while and has been identified as a barrier to enabling effective communication and subsequent action. Silo thinking relates to the fact that people can have different interests and understandings of sectors and disciplines, leading to segregated views and processes. However, when attempting to address biodiversity loss and ecosystem service degradation, a cross sectoral and interdisciplinary approach is required. Therefore, breaking down silos and promoting more integrated thinking is a key challenge that needs addressing.

To address this, the paper draws experiences from the literature, interviews and a workshop to generate a series of recommendations for individuals, teams and organisations to improve their science policy communication. At the heart of these recommendations, the authors highlight three main actions that need to be undertaken if biodiversity losses are to be successfully halted.

1)     Jointly framing research and policy to aid in increasing research relevance and usefulness. This needs to be promoted through increased interactions and collaborations between those working in science and policy, such as at meetings and e-conferences, and also through funding councils supporting more cross-sectoral issues to encourage those groups who wouldn’t necessarily link up to do so.

2)     Promoting inter- and trans-disciplinary research to generate more informed and improved dialogue. This can be achieved through having more collaborations with key stakeholders, and having support from particular organisations and funders when appropriate.

3)     Establish incentives so that people are willing to put the effort in to engage in diverse ways for science-policy dialogue.  This could include increasing resources and incentives such as training and support mechanisms to encourage scientists and policy makers to communicate with each other and across disciplines/sectors.

For effective two-way dialogue between scientists and policy makers to become ‘the norm’ will take time, particularly when thinking about biodiversity and ecosystem services issues. These science problems are often thought of as ‘wicked’ due to the complexity and uncertainty associated with them, which can be often difficult to communicate. However, as the recommendations that the paper point out, unless increased efforts are made between both sides of the story, then biodiversity loss will continue to be a problem and be insufficiently tackled.

If you are interested in becoming more involved at the science-policy interface, you may want to come along to our policy training workshop on 8th April. Find out more here.