Current Projects

Advancing understanding of the characteristics of the science-policy interface in fisheries decision-making: A study of the role of information in strategic decision-making

Suzuette Soomai, Postdoctoral Fellow, EIUI

Dr. Suzuette Soomai, Postdoctoral Fellow, completed her doctoral research on the role of fisheries scientific information in decision-making with the EIUI in 2015. Suzuette studied the information pathways – production, communication, and use of scientific information – in three inter-related organizations, the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The 2015 study of information use in decision-making in DFO, NAFO, and FAO focused on the “supply” end, i.e., the production of information and its use in operational decision-making. Suzuette’s postdoctoral research will focus on the “demand” side by seeking an understanding of the information needs of the policy-makers within the three organizations. Her postdoctoral research will also empirically examine the role(s) of scientific information in strategic fisheries decision-making in another inter-related governmental organizations, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

The insights on operational decision-making at three jurisdictional scales (national, regional, and international), demonstrated in DFO, NAFO, and FAO respectively, set the context for this postdoctoral research. Through interviews of science advisors and senior decision-makers, and direct observations of scientific, management, and policy-making meetings in each organization, the research will reveal the multidimensional processes at the science-policy interface by which scientific information is communicated and considered in policy decisions. For instance, the interviews and direct observations of the science advisors and senior-decision-makers can provide evidence of stages in the policy-process where information is used, the types of information use (indirect and direct), and opportunities and barriers in the communication and the uptake of information at “upper level” decision-making. The research can show how an individual’s thinking of policy problems changed and which information types or sources were most catalytic in this process. The research can also reveal the reasons for acting or not acting on scientific advice and ideas on innovations to enhance communication at the science-policy interface and the uptake of information in decision-making.

The research will advance understanding of the information pathways – production, communication, and use of information – in DFO, NAFO, FAO, and ICES. Canadian scientists, science advisors, and decision-makers (managers and policy-makers) participate in operational and strategic decision-making in the four organizations. From a Canadian context, the findings can enable interested stakeholders to determine appropriate entry points to introduce evidence and to participate in fisheries decision-making. The new knowledge will also equip fisheries governmental organizations globally to evaluate or modify practices to increase the uptake of information in decision-making.


Investigating and enhancing the policy relevance of marine scientific information (especially grey literature) through multipartner collaboration

A comparative case study approach, applying a suite of research methodologies, will be used to examine the information-policy interface, accounting for different information life cycles and policy-making cultures that may exist within the organizations. (see more)


Research Student Projects

Impact Evaluation of the International Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA) Database

The Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA) database has been a resource on the science, technology, and management of marine, brackishwater, and freshwater environments, and related economic, social, and legal subjects since the 1970s. Operating as an international partnership of over 60 agencies, ASFA compiles and disseminates information produced around the world and is overseen by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Accessible through a subscription from Proquest, ASFA currently contains more than 2 million records, and its main aim is to facilitate the global sharing of information, particularly of grey literature, i.e., information that is not produced by a commercial publisher, and unique reports that are otherwise unavailable.

Due to the rapidly changing information landscape, the future of ASFA in its present form is being reconsidered. The EIUI research program is assisting the FAO and its ASFA Impact Evaluation Working Group in conducting an impact evaluation of what would happen if ASFA ceased to exist in its current form. In her study, Master of Library and Information Studies student Dianna Castillo, is focussing on one component of the larger evaluation project by asking two main questions. First, does an abstracting and indexing service have a place in present day marine research and policy development? Second, does ASFA meet the information needs of its potential users or are there comparable alternatives available that meet the needs of users?

This project has three complimentary approaches to collecting and analyzing data obtained through the commercial publisher, ProQuest; a survey of subscribers worldwide; and interviews with members of the International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries and Information Centers (IAMSLIC). ProQuest will provide data that tracks customers accessing ASFA which can provide a snapshot of how subscribers are currently engaging with the database. With the assistance of ProQuest, a survey will be distributed to ASFA subscribers and will ask them why they subscribe to ASFA and how they evaluate databases, among other questions. The survey will also ask what, in their opinion, are the key features of ASFA and if it meets the needs of their communities. Interviews of IAMSLIC members will complement and augment the survey data by seeking the views of information professionals who work in the fields covered by ASFA in numerous countries around the world.

This research will describe how users engage with and use ASFA and if it facilitates the sharing of information among stakeholders on ocean research and policy development. The data collected through the three methods discussed will be used to analyze what users view as key features of ASFA and if it is meeting the information needs of stakeholders, and if not, what changes may need to be made to address those needs.


The Role of Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations in Policy and Decision-Making

At the 2010 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada committed to protecting 10% of its territorial ocean by the year 2020. The government also committed to the interim goal of protecting five percent by the end of 2017. While the government hastens to achieve these targets, the internal capacity to do so is limited and support from external parties is needed. In 2015 the government convened a meeting for Canadian environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (eNGOs) to enlist their help in achieving the targets and to encourage the eNGO’s active participation in the decision-making process. Since then, eNGOs have been engaged in gathering and distilling information to advise policy makers on the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Canada’s coastal and marine environment.

To better understand the role of eNGOs in the decision-making process, Rachael Cadman, a student in the Master of Resource and Environmental Management program, is conducting a case study of two eNGOs: World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF), and the Ecology Action Centre (EAC). This study is focussing on the efforts of WWF and EAC on the design and implementation of three active MPA projects that are to be completed by the end of December 2017: the Laurentian Channel, the Haddock Box, and the Scott Islands. Three methods are being used to collect data for this study: interviews with eNGO representatives; direct observations at eNGO/interagency meetings; and content analysis of e-mail discussions among the eNGOs and between eNGOs and government. Content analysis will also be performed on key publications, including submissions to the Canada Gazette and public research reports.

This case study presents a unique opportunity to examine the collaboration among eNGOs and between eNGOs and governments in environmental policy and decision-making. The research will highlight how eNGOs use information in formal and informal partnerships to achieve their mandate. Knowledge of the existing enablers and barriers in the pathways of information may be beneficial to eNGOs more generally as they strive to foster productive collaborations with their peers and with decision-makers to enhance information use in environmental policy-making.


Evaluating the Role of Working Groups for Informed Decision Making in Fisheries Management

Ensuring that the “right” information is available for decision-making can be a challenge as this information often resides in different organizations with different management mandates. Consequently, many governmental organizations have utilized a range of approaches, including technical advisory committees and working groups, to promote communication of relevant information among stakeholders.

Kalene Eck, a student in the Master of Marine Management program, is studying the role of working groups for informed decision making in fisheries management in Belize. Since the early 2000s, the Belize Fisheries Department has sought the assistance and support of external bodies, including other governmental organizations, academic institutes, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the fishing industry, and community groups in addressing the different and competing national goals in marine management and conservation. This research project is examining the role of multiple stakeholders participating in three technical working groups designed to assist in marine fisheries decision-making in Belize:

  • Managed Access Working Group: Tasked with the implementation of a national Traditional User Rights in Fisheries (TURF) system in small-scale fisheries;
  • National Hicatee Conservation Network: Tasked with the monitoring and conservation of the hicatee turtle (Dermatemys mawii);
  • Spawning Aggregation Working Group: Tasked with the management and monitoring of fish spawning aggregation sites in Belize.

Through face-to-face and telephone interviews of working group members and decision-makers (or policy makers) in the Belize Fisheries Department, Kalene will examine the role of the three working groups in providing information for policy-making. Members of the three working groups will be asked to describe their role in the production of information. The processes used by the groups will be revealed in addition to enablers and challenges to communication. Decision-makers will be asked to describe the different mandates and expected outcomes of each working group. Decision-makers will also be asked to describe how they use the output of the groups.

This case study of fisheries decision-making in Belize will highlight how working groups comprised of members representing organizations with different mandates collaborate and communicate. Insights on the influence of technical and interdisciplinary groups in the production of information, the communication of information, and its uptake in decision-making will be gained. Recommendations to promote communication and use of information in decision-making will be proposed. Belize has highlighted its ongoing commitment to achieving national goals for conservation, sustainable fisheries, and coastal zone management in national policy. The results of this study may be beneficial in informing future multi-sectoral collaboration in integrated coastal and ocean management in Belize and in other jurisdictions.


The Social Science of Oceans: Investigating “Ocean Connectivity”

Simon Ryder-Burbidge, a Master of Marine Management student, is completing his research project, “Towards an Ocean Connectivity Index,” to study how communities and their citizens value ocean spaces and perceive their respective connections – or lack thereof – to marine environments, and what information contributes to their perceptions. This research is being conducted in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

This project is using available datasets to compare a science-based reflection of ocean connectivity with public perceptions in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Here, connectivity refers to the measure of impact that ocean environments can have on the well-being of respective communities, e.g., high-flood event connectivity for vulnerable, low-lying coastal communities, compared to low-flood event connectivity for inland communities. The project includes a survey of Falmouth residents that is designed to collect data on how coastal residents perceive their connections to the marine environment. The analysis of data on public perceptions and an Ocean Connectivity Index built from publicly accessible scientific data will examine what the science suggests about ocean connectivity in Falmouth versus what the community says. Where do the two align? How do they differ? The research also seeks to uncover any correlations that may exist between demographic characteristics of survey participants and perceptions. Recognizing that communities and individuals therein experience ocean connectivity in different ways, this study is examining where connections exist, and will provide a community-scale framework for decision-makers and communicators to engage citizens in locally-relevant ocean issues and marine policy. The ocean connectivity index will present a community-based model for the development of ocean policy and localized science communication strategy.

More information on this project is available in a blog post, or a feature by Cape Cod’s local NPR station, WCAI’s Living Lab Radio. Simon can also be contacted at the Marine Policy Centre, WHOI, at 508-289-2846 (ex. 2373). He is currently inviting residents and/or homeowners in Falmouth to participate in the online survey running until 15 August 2017.