EIUI Book Chapter Post: The Science-Policy Interface in Coastal and Ocean Management: Background and Characteristics

“The Science-Policy Interface in Coastal and Ocean Management” is a series of posts highlighting the chapters in the new book: Science, Information, and Policy Interface for Effective Coastal and Ocean Management, edited by Bertrum H. MacDonald, Suzuette S. Soomai, Elizabeth M. De Santo, and Peter G. Wells, published by CRC Press (Taylor & Francis).

Science, Information, and Policy Interface for Effective Coastal and Ocean Management provides a timely and original perspective on the role that information, and particularly scientific information, plays in the policy-making and decision-making processes in integrated coastal and ocean management (ICOM). It is the first of its kind to put this critical, yet frequently overlooked, aspect of coastal and ocean management “front and centre.” This volume assumes a belief in evidence-based policy-making, and examines how advice for management available in research literature, including technical and summary reports, is used in decision-making.

This series begins with an overview of the important messages in Chapter 1 – “Introduction” and Chapter 2 – “Understanding the Science–Policy Interface in Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management,” which were written by the editors. Chapter 1 provides the background and objectives of the book relevant to coastal and ocean management. Chapter 2 introduces the characteristics of the science-policy interface, including enablers and barriers to communication of information at the interface.

ICOM describes a dynamic, multidisciplinary, iterative, and participatory process to promote sustainable management. ICOM is based on the integration of existing knowledge from a range of sectors, including scientific knowledge and local knowledge, in an interdisciplinary approach. It follows that the information needs in ICOM are usually quite complex, depending on the environmental issue to be addressed. Yet, given the production of many thousands of scientific publications on marine environments aimed at guiding public policy, solutions to the serious coastal and ocean issues are often not forthcoming and problems continue to exist. Furthermore, the role of information often appears to be “invisible” in policy and decision-making processes in ICOM.

The science-policy interface operates on several scales: geographic, institutional, political, and temporal. The interface is also more inclusive than the label implies, as it involves social processes and encompasses different types of knowledge. In fact, multiple interfaces exist due to many decision-making contexts, each comprising complex informational connections and networks, for example, scientific and local traditional knowledge that are influenced by societal factors, some of which are unique to individual policies, decision-makers, and the environmental issues. The main characteristics of the interface include: different actors involved in the policy- and decision-making processes, diverse subjects and available knowledge, various available information products and framing of the issues, politicizing of science, uncertainty, and organizational aspects. Many of these characteristics can act as enablers or barriers to information flow at the interface. The major attributes of information—credibility, relevance, and legitimacy—also influence its uptake in decision-making.

Another important element to highlight is that information pathways—the production, communication, and use of information—are multidimensional, and information flow may not be linear or unidirectional, which also accounts for the complexity of activity at the science-policy interface. While information can follow a direct pathway from published research to a decision-making context, more often information arising from research moves concurrently through multiple channels at varying paces (sometimes rapidly, as can be the case with social media) and involves a variety of actors.

Researchers continue to build an understanding of the activities at the science-policy interface, especially what causes or creates the apparent divide between the two realms. Questions remain, though, about what accounts for “blind spots” regarding the role(s) and values of information in ocean and coastal management contexts. Highlighted gaps in the knowledge include the complexity of information behaviour and systems involving many different actors. For example, policy networks now include a wide range of stakeholders, among them scientists, managers, policy makers (including politicians), the international community, NGOs, industry, journalists and the news media, think tanks, and the interested and general public.

Information use in ICOM is clearly dependent on the characteristics of the science-policy interface. It follows that understanding the role of information in policy and decision-making contexts is critical to enhancing information flow at the science-policy interface and its use for effective integrated coastal and ocean management. The fundamental concepts and principles of the interface explored in this book and illustrated in case studies will be highlighted in future posts in this series.


The individual book chapters are available on the publisher’s website:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

The full book is available in print and e-book formats from the publisher at this link


Author: Suzuette S. Soomai


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