There is an dangerous trend toward a post-facts society, where truth and evidence are losing value and they are replaced at the heart of decision making processes by emotions. In this context, the European Commission and the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) jointly organised on 29 and 30 September 2016 the international conference Science and Policy Making: towards a new dialogue.
The need to combine evidence and scientific advice with the inherent primary role of values in every democratic political system was one of the key messages of the conference. Commissioner Moedas opened the conference stating that the role of scientific advisers in the XXI century is not to provide all the answers. They have a more complex task, because together with the relevant answers, they need to engage with society, establishing a communication that helps to beat the skepticism that undermines trust in science and politics. Commissioner Navracsics, on the other hand, encouraged scientists to make an effort to understand the constraints of politicians, and to keep in mind the challenges of society when planning their research. Finally, Sir Peter Gluckman (Chair of INGSA and Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand) highlighted the differences between the scientific and the political processes. Values, priorities, timing and language are points of potential conflict, and INGSA’s role is evidence brokerage: build capacity, establish bridges, help mutual understanding, create partnerships.
Some key learnings of the #EUINGSA16 conference
- Science advice is not a two-way conversation: it involves scientists, politicians and society (Sir Peter Gluckman)
- Scientists and policy makers need to make efforts to understand each other and the constraints of each other’s methodologies.
- Politicians need to learn to ask the concrete question. Scientists should provide options, and not absolute answers.
- There is a need for a clear, transparent framework for scientific adviser’s work, defining the needs and responsibilities of each part.
- Engage society in the process as a way to increase legitimacy and regain trust.
- Communication is key. (Social) media should not be demonized; they are tools to help us reach society.
Scientific advice for the European regions
The European Commission champions evidence-based policy making. At the conference, the scientific advice organs in the EC structure were presented. The Joint Research Center (JRC) is the EC’s science and knowledge service, established to support EU policies with independent evidence throughout the whole policy cycle. Its main focus areas are healthy and safe environment, secure energy supplies, sustainable mobility and consumer health and safety. Recently, the EC has established the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to complement the work of the JRC. With a High Level Group of Scientific Advisers at its core, the SAM draws on its own knowledge and the rich European scientific expertise through the national academies and other research institutions. Other scientific bodies relevant to EU policy making are the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS),
At the conference, other international institutions such as the UNESCO presented their own resources for Scientific Advice. National governments and parliaments have as well put in place adequate structures for feeding scientific advice in their policy making processes, and they were presented by speakers during the whole conference.
But where were the regional governments in this picture? Local and regional governments were the big absents on the event, with the exception of Québec, represented by its Chief Scientific Adviser. It would be foolish to think that regions don’t need evidence and science to their policy making. But science advisory mechanisms are costly, and many regions don’t have enough expertise in their territories to cover all fields of science. Therefore, cooperation and pooling of resources among regions is crucial, as it is the cooperation with European structures. In this sense, the European Commission’s JRC collaborates with the EU regions and countries through the Smart Specialisation Platform (S3 Platform), assisting regions in developing their Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3). The S3 Platform is open to regional and national administrations of candidate and neighbouring countries as well.
Obviously, there is still room for improvement. Regional politicians need scientific input for taking the right decisions, and they cannot do it alone. The experience of AER’s committee’s work is an example of successful cooperation: by exchanging best practices in many fields where evidence and science-proven facts is key – such as health, sustainability or energy -, regions can learn from each other and obtain valuable lessons for their own initiatives. Advancing in scientific diplomacy between regions will facilitate evidence-based policy making and lead to growth and development.
All the materials of the conference is available here.