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Integrating science into policy making – JRC session at the biggest science gathering of the year

Dominique Brossard, Vladimir Šucha, Sir Peter Gluckman and Daniel Sarewitz at 2016 AAAS
Feb 15 2016

Vladimír Šucha, JRC Director-General, shared the stage with Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the New Zealand Prime Minister, and Daniel Sarewitz, from the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University (USA), at a JRC-organised session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held this year in Washington, D.C. This event is widely recognised as the most important ‘science stakeholder’ gathering of the year.

The JRC session "integrating science into policymaking", looked into the different practices in which evidence informs policy, the challenges faced, and key approaches that have been successful. Vladimir Šucha said after the event: I am very happy to have participated in such a stimulating discussion with leading thinkers on this topic, vital for developing effective policies. Our experience of informing policy through evidence within the European Commission is that today's policy challenges do not come in neat discipline-sized boxes and are influenced also by other political and social factors. It is a challenge common to scientists and policymakers. Being able to consider this challenge internationally and share experiences was extremely fruitful.

Integrating science into policy making: what works and why

Sir Peter Gluckman, who won this year's AAAS award for "Science and diplomacy," spoke about the art and science of policy advice and embedding science into the processes of government. He mentioned the inevitable tensions between policy-making dominated by values, and science, based on processed designed to reduce the impact of values. Sir Peter also highlighted that science advice must not be conflated with perceived lobbying effort for science funding.

Vladimír Šucha presented the JRC's experience and expertise as the interface between science and policy. He focused on four elements vital for providing effective scientific evidence to inform policy: trust, without which the evidence will be ignored; timing, as scientific evidence should be provided as early as possible in the policy cycle, before fundamental policy positions are taken and should ideally frame the discussions; form, meaning the key importance of closer interactions between scientists and policymakers, where policy questions and answers should be co-created by both sides; and the convenient format of presenting evidence to policy makers, which should be concise, visual and quickly digestible.  Mr Šucha also spoke about the necessity for efficient management of scientific data, so that the evidence presented to policymakers is of best quality and relevance.

Daniel Sarewitz discussed a case study of a dispute about attribution of climate impacts between President Obama's science advisor John Holdren, and University of Colorado policy scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. This gave a frame for a discussion why bringing science into policy is often a difficult and contested process, and how the very notion of “evidence-based policy” is itself an inherently political concept.

Background information

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Every year thousands of leading scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and journalists gather to discuss recent developments in science and technology.
The JRC has taken part in the scientific programme of the AAAS annual meeting since 2008 with topics ranging from space weather, Earth observation, nanotechnologies, alternative methods to animal testing, to nuclear detection and waste management.