Exploring Advances in Understanding the Science-Policy Interface: Highlights from the AAAS Conference, February 2013



Peter Wells, a member of the EIUI research team, attended the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference in Boston recently (www.aaas.org/meetings/2013/ ). The theme of the conference was “The Beauty and Benefits of Science,” and two sessions were of special note, namely, “Communicating science to policy makers” and “New tools to engage publics and assess the impact of science communication.” Highlights and take-home messages from these sessions, as they relate directly to the EIUI research initiative, are as follows:

Communicating science to policy makers

Speakers at this session emphasized that more scientists need to be directly engaged with policy makers. But if one wants to influence policy makers, their role should not be downplayed; they operate in a policy world not solely based on science, but rather all of humanity and people do see the world differently. On the positive side, science has broad credibility and it is recognized that all of societal culture has to change objectively in its view on many issues, and adjust to the pervasive influence of social media. At the science policy interface, it is essential that two way communication occur but is challenging to achieve. Scientists must advocate for the use of findings coming from the scientific process, but be clear when talking about science and about policy to keep them separate. Scientists should talk to the science, not the values (policy represents a combination of facts and values). To maintain the best kind of science feeding into policy decisions, it is necessary to measure how scientific reports are used, and it is important for writers to identify themselves with policy makers.

New tools to engage publics and assess the impact of science communication

This session introduced some of the many technical and website advancements that greatly assist in informing and engaging various interested publics on scientific topics, including: the WebLyzard and the concept of the tag cloud (www.weblyzard.com/interface; info@weblyzard.com); EcoResearch.net and the concept of semantic landscapes; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) excellent website on climate (www.climate.gov), which has very high usage by policy and decision makers; the importance of measuring success – moving from outputs to outcomes, e.g., the continued use of worldview products (www.worldviews.net); the Portal to the Public Project, and its guiding framework (which is very similar to EIUI’s research framework); REAIM (www.reaim.org), which is a meta-frame for evaluating the effectiveness of health science communication; and the UK CASE (Campaign for Science and Engineering), with a focus on awareness and knowing the audience. In any communication effort, it is important to be able to measure its efficacy or effectiveness, which can be achieved through a measure of “customer sentiment”: how effectively the communication goals have been met. The entire session was of value to the EIUI project for considering how to measure the role and effectiveness of communication between marine scientists producing data and information on specific topics and how that information reaches the intended audience of managers, decision makers, and policy makers.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks are extended to the speakers and participants in the two sessions for their stimulating talks and discussion, respectively.

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