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Making science-policy interface work

Sep 08, 2008

An e-survey Political Science? Strengthening science-policy dialogue in developing countries commissioned by SciDev.Net reveals that development policy making needs to be integrated with scientific research findings. The survey also calls for enhanced public engagement on science.

Political Science? Strengthening science-policy dialogue in developing countries

Authors: Harry Jones, Nicola Jones and Cora Walsh
Publisher: Overseas Development Institute, August 2008

An international survey of more than 600 individuals engaged in integrating science into development policy has endorsed the role of "intermediary" organisations in enhancing communication between the scientific and policymaking communities.

The survey was part of a research project commissioned last year by SciDev.Net from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI), with financial support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

The electronic survey drew opinions from researchers, intermediaries and policymakers involved in science–policy dialogue.

It identifies the obstacles to better communication, including a low understanding of science among politicians and difficulties in getting access to relevant scientific information in a timely fashion.

It also reveals a greater willingness among scientists in developing countries to act as advocates in policy debates than their counterparts in the developed world — for example, on topics such as food production or environmental protection.

And the final report shows that developing country researchers attach greater importance to the value of public engagement on science in making the science–policy interface work more effectively.

There was a significant difference between developed and developing countries on the question of whether scientists should be seen as neutral information providers, or act as advocates by suggesting policy options and pushing for their adoption.

An equal number of respondents from developed and developing countries said that scientists should restrict themselves to providing information about research findings (17 per cent and 14 per cent respectively).

But almost three times as many developing country respondents felt that scientists should also suggest policy positions to decision-makers in addition to presenting research findings (43 per cent compared to 13 per cent from developed countries).

Those surveyed were also asked about their level of satisfaction with the availability of scientific and technical information in a number of different areas. The highest level of dissatisfaction (43 per cent) concerned information on indigenous knowledge, followed by the brain drain (28 per cent).

In contrast, 47 per cent expressed satisfaction with the amount of information available about climate change, though 28 per cent were dissatisfied.

Respondents were also asked what type of services would be useful in increasing their engagement with the research community. Most popular were opportunities to exchange opinions with scientists (67 per cent), followed by other opportunities for personal interaction.

Less valuable were debates on the web and online discussions, although these were still described as "most useful" by about one-third of respondents.

Only 30 per cent of those interviewed in developed countries agreed that greater public knowledge about science and technology was "essential" to improved development. But in the developing world this proportion was much higher, at 49 per cent.

"These systemic problems will require coordinated and holistic efforts by national governments, international actors and nongovernmental actors alike," write the authors.

The authors add a note of caution. "Although engagement, deliberation, participation and advice represent important opportunities, they must be approached strategically and with realism regarding the power and politics involved in a specific context."

Source : SciDev.Net
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