Improving Ocean Management through Strengthened Evidence-Based Decision Making: EIUI at the 8th Canadian Science Policy Conference

Improving ocean management through strengthened evidence-based decision making – based on insights about research on information pathways – was the main message that the EIUI research team highlighted in a panel at the 8th Canadian Science Policy Conference held in Ottawa on 8-10 November 2016. Speaking in a session on the conference theme “A New Culture of Policy Making and Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Horizons and Challenges,” EIUI researchers, Peter Wells, Suzuette Soomai, Lee Wilson, and Kevin Quigley, along with Chris Jennings, Chief of Policy, Strategic Planning and Operations Branch, Earth Sciences Sector at Natural Resources Canada, drew on recent research and experience to present the following key takeaways and recommendations:

  • Understanding how information flows among multiple actors can guide an organization in evaluating or modifying its information production and communication practices.
  • The path from science to decision making is often non-linear and multiple science-policy interfaces exist; the movement of information between scientific and policy groups can follow numerous formal and informal pathways linking a variety of actors in networks of policy- and decision making at all levels of government.
  • A key driver for the production of marine environmental information is the top-down pull from federal government senior management responding to legislation, regulations, policies, and mandates.
  • Scientists from various institutions (e.g., government and university) may also push to place topics on the policy agenda.
  • Measuring the use and influence of environmental assessment reports is important but it can be challenging.
  • Pursuing timely, continued, and targeted consultation that accommodates stakeholder schedules (e.g., fishers’ availability affected by weather and tides) is essential.
  • Establishing committees and working groups to involve all stakeholders in a decision improves focus and coordination and helps to break down institutional silos.
  • Increase funding support for information brokerage/bridging activities among stakeholders.
  • Translating the influence of brokerage/bridging activities into measurable terms (e.g., a dollar metric) is important; however, the significance of this value is often discovered too late, after processes are hindered or have broken down.
  • Well-defined decision making processes produce credible, relevant, and legitimate information for decisions; however, the processes themselves may limit the advice necessary to address newer and complex concerns, e.g., climate change and ecosystem approaches.
  • Scientific advice is influenced by how a problem is defined, e.g., evidence may be needed to make a resource development or conservation decision.
  • Trust relationships between scientists and managers improve understanding of science and management needs.
  • The door should be left open for hypothesis-driven government research to fill knowledge gaps as they emerge.
  • There is a higher tolerance for risk and failure when risks are more certain; community engagement becomes more important as uncertainties increase.

Peter Wells presented perspectives from his career as a marine biologist and aquatic toxicologist, having worked with the Canadian federal government, primarily in Environment Canada, and having served with international agencies such as the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP). Lee Wilson discussed findings from his research on communication activities within multi-sector networks in the developing tidal power industry in the Bay of Fundy. Suzuette Soomai described enablers and barriers in the communication of scientific information for decision-making in fisheries management based on her research in the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. Chris Jennings spoke about policy development from the perspective of his experience in a science-based department of government. Kevin Quigley outlined how understanding of risk analysis aids in the use of evidence in decision making. The panel was moderated by EIUI team member Ian Stewart.

The Canadian Science Policy Conference provides a non-partisan forum for national dialogue on science, technology, and policy. Since 2009, the annual conference has attracted a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary audience of researchers and professionals from industry, the non-profit sector, universities, federal and provincial governments, and politicians. The 2016 conference, attended by over 600 participants and speakers, featured five themes:

Theme 1: A New Culture of Policy Making and Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Horizons and Challenges

Theme 2: A New Innovation Agenda for Canada: What are We Building?

Theme 3: Science Funding Review: New Visions and New Directions

Theme 4: Clean Energy and Climate Change as Global Priorities: Implications for Canada?

Theme 5: Canada’s Return to the International Stage: How Can Science Help Foreign Policy?


Many further details about the conference are found at the conference website, including:

Conference Proceedings Book (online viewing version)

Conference Proceedings Book (pdf version)

Conference Program at this link

Speech by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science at this link

Interview with EIUI team member Ian Stewart at this link


Authors: Suzuette S. Soomai and Bertrum MacDonald



Photograph credits: Canadian Science Policy Conference


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