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Communicating Global Change Science to Society: An Assessment and Case Studies

Communicating Global Change Science to Society: An Assessment and Case Studies


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Communicating Global Change Science to Society: An Assessment and Case Studies

National governments and research scientists may be equally concerned with issues of global environmental change, but their interests-and their timelines-are not the same. Governments are often focused on short-term effects and local impacts of global phenomena. Scientists, on the other hand, are loath to engage in speculation about the specific consequences of large-scale environmental trends.

How then can we translate scientific understanding of these trends into public policy?

Communicating Global Change Science to Society examines the growing number of instances in which governments and scientists have engaged in research projects in which the goal is to inform policy decisions. It assesses these experiences and suggests their implications for future collaborations.

The book begins with a discussion of interactions between science and policy, particularly as they relate to the broad significance of environmental change. It then addresses concerns that emerge from this discussion, including how scientific research results are communicated in democratic societies, the uses (and misuses) of scientific findings, and what the natural and social sciences could learn from each other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597261777
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 07/02/2007
Series: Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) Series Series
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Holm Tiessen is Director of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and Professor on leave from the Georg-August Universität of Göttingen, Germany.

Gerhard Breulmann, a terrestrial ecologist, is Science Officer at the IAI in São José dos Campos, Brazil.

Mike Brklacich is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and chairs the IAI’s scientific advisory committee. 

Rômulo S. C. Menezes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Nuclear Energy at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil.

Read an Excerpt

Communicating Global Change Science to Society

An Assessment and Case Studies

By Holm Tiessen, Mike Brklacich, Gerhard Breulmann, Rômulo S. C. Menezes


Copyright © 2007 Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE)
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-151-1


Why This Book? An Introduction and Synthesis

Holm Tiessen

There has always been global change, and global change has always had impacts on human populations. Twelve thousand years ago, hunters migrated out of the drying Sahara region, and northern people colonized the fertile soils left behind by retreating glaciers of the last ice age. Only a hundred years ago, some of these fertile soils were settled by mostly European agriculturalists who had migrated to North America, many of them driven by droughts in the southern part of the Soviet Union. For much of human history, people have reacted to climate change by adapting to or escaping from environmental stresses and exploring opportunities. On today's more populous and wealthier planet, opportunities for escape have become limited, while increased knowledge and systematic scientific approaches have improved the chances for adaptation. At the same time, humans themselves have become a significant cause of global change. This is the root of an increasing demand for global change science to 1) predict the rate, shape, and extent of global change; 2) provide decision aids for mitigation; and 3) provide guidance toward adaptation.

In response to these demands, science is undergoing transformations toward greater societal and policy relevance, both in its choice of subject matter and in its communication of results. These transformations do not happen in a linear or planned process but occur in an undirected manner as scientists and research institutions respond to changes in science funding, attitudes, and policies. This book presents both a collection of experiences from the Collaborative Research Networks (CRNs) of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) and an analysis of the policy interface that has developed in these networks. Researchers prepared background chapters and provided interviews about the policy relevance, links to decision makers, and outreach of their projects. Some projects had no policy component. These typically claimed an intrinsic policy relevance based on the project's scientific excellence and importance, but no activities were undertaken that might have conveyed this importance to society or policy makers. Most research networks started out without policy agendas but developed them during the course of the five- to six-year projects as opportunities arose. The development of policy relevance was often the result of exposure of the researchers to societal needs during the research. Only one project was fully embedded in government policy; it was based in government administrations and dealt with public health issues due to global change. Despite this integration, the implementation of research findings in public health practice was difficult because practitioners found it difficult to integrate the predictions and probabilities of an epidemic based on climate events into their day-to-day operations.

Both development and economic growth are undermined by global change. Therefore any response to global environmental change requires political, as well as scientific or technical, treatment. Under the realities of global change, societies must ask, Development and growth of what, for whom, and at what cost? "Green" policies are often challenging to the policy sector because they typically call attention to what should not be done and therefore often emphasize the "negative" side of "positive" development and growth. Legitimacy of such policies is founded on the need to harmonize development with the capacity of Earth systems to support societies' needs; therefore legitimacy is founded on scientific knowledge. The policy dilemma results because democratic decision makers usually arrive at policies by an adversarial process, while on global change issues, they are compelled to exercise persuasion and inducement in a continuous learning process linked to science. In this delicate situation, in order for science to succeed in influencing policy and the decisions or actions of societies, it has to have a number of attributes that go beyond traditional measures of scientific quality. These needed attributes are credibility, acceptability, practicality, usefulness, and accessibility.

Scientific credibility is underpinned by peer reviews of proposals, research methods, and results. Wider credibility is commonly derived from endorsements by sources or authorities trusted by society or its representatives.

Credibility and acceptability are enhanced when policy makers are engaged in the research process, starting with the initial framing of the research questions. Their continued involvement requires that scientists be ready to engage in communication and remain responsive to demands by the policy sector. It is a difficult lesson for many scientists that, to be policy relevant, good science is not enough but a persistent and patient engagement with the appropriate audience for the scientific message is also required. The message may also have to be translated and packaged for different audiences. Such processes have been the hallmark of commissioned work. Yet global environmental change (GEC) science cannot be driven only by articulated needs of societies. Research must also be proactive, ahead of societies' demands.

The development of policy relevance has enhanced many scientists' engagement and integrated them into ongoing communication with different stakeholders. This process requires safeguards against biases, as the development of advocacy may undermine the neutrality demanded of the scientific process. One finding of the research on climate risk is that climate stress does not cause human vulnerabilities but only unveils them. Close cooperation between natural and human sciences is required to establish full causal chains between natural events and human conditions. This interdisciplinarity has been one of the most difficult and least successful tasks of the research networks. Where it did occur, interdisciplinarity often meant adding a discipline to the research process, not really integrating it.

If scientists themselves want to influence policy, they have to understand the relationship between policy and politics. One of the most important components of that understanding is an appreciation of who will win and who will lose as a consequence of the results of their science.

To influence policy, scientists have to identify the right person to hear the message at the right time, and in the appropriate language. Often this person is hard to find, the timing is hard to establish, and the language is hard to learn. To ease links to society and policy relevance, several of the projects have found "brokers," most often in the form of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs involved in the search for development alternatives or in resource management have a need for scientific information. In turn they have offered scientists access to communities or research sites. They have also carried the knowledge or technical solutions provided by the scientific research back into the communities, using communication and demonstration tools with which scientists are less conversant. The cooperation has often been fruitful and has developed its own momentum, which has frequently continued after project funding ceased. Yet, in the beginning, there were very significant barriers caused by perceptions of different agendas and lack of transparency and understanding of goals and motivations of different actors. Essentially, trust needed to be built before the groups could work together effectively. This took time and effort; it also sometimes required adjustments in research agendas.

A recurring issue is that the tasks of such engagement and communication are not recognized in traditional scientific or academic reward systems. Even work involving cooperation between different science disciplines is often seen as a dilution of scientific rigor. The typical merit system based on peer-reviewed publications in disciplinary journals does not value interdisciplinary work to the same degree, so such work counts less toward promotion and recognition.

Practicality and usefulness have not been highly valued criteria unless they have resulted in patent rights. Throughout the consultations that have led to this book, we have heard calls for making adjustments in the academic reward system and the criteria for funding and monitoring success.

Accessibility in the scientific world means open data sources, accessible metadata, and publications in recognized journals. Accessibility for society and decision makers implies condensation, digestion, and translation of scientific results—all tasks for which scientists are ill trained and rarely rewarded. Typically only late-career scientists take on these tasks, because they have overcome the career-determining pressures of the academic reward system.

In addition, scientists may be discouraged by the variable and shifting interests and motivations of stakeholders and by their intermittent engagement. It is important for the GEC science community to recognize that other stakeholders may engage in only those phases of the science process in which they have sufficient interest. In turn, discontinuous engagement by scientists is also an obstacle to stakeholder engagement. Land users typically have time horizons well beyond the duration of research projects. When stakeholder engagement during research generates interest and further questions, scientists may no longer be able to respond when project funding comes to an end. Despite the benefits of longer-term engagement, the search for innovative portfolios may make funding agencies reluctant to make longer-term commitments.

Despite the many obstacles, most researchers in the IAI projects evaluated for this publication not only established policy links and stakeholder involvement but also found the process highly rewarding, particularly in the international and intercultural settings provided by Collaborative Research Networks. Often students and young scientists were involved. There was an expectation in the projects that young researchers trained in this environment would engage in policy linkages as a matter of course in the future. This was seen as a very important aspect of IAI networks. There is the hope that this investment will last for years through a generational change in which trainees will be both scientists and policy makers of the future.

One motivation for the present analysis is that it will be useful in the development of future GEC research programs. Lessons from the analysis translate into an evolution of the tasks of research-funding agencies. New funding programs have to create opportunities (funds that allow connecting what has not been connected so far) and challenges (progress beyond business as usual). Meeting standards that combine the criteria for both policy relevance and scientific excellence places greater professional and personal demands on the researcher. Such projects not only focus on the generation of scientific knowledge (as in the traditional science-funding approach) but also require additional investments in time and human and institutional capacity building. This brings both opportunities and transaction costs. The development of this type of project is a dynamic process with mutual feedbacks, readjustments, and uncertain outcomes. Programs must be steered with more caution and greater effort from both the researchers and the funding agencies. The project cycles likely affect both researcher and funding agency. This new process may be as important as its outcome, since it presents a great opportunity for institutional development and learning.

There is much talk of internationalization of academic institutions and their science, often accompanied by little action. The Collaborative Research Networks had to work internationally as a condition of funding. Despite the higher transaction costs of international projects, the intercultural and international work proved useful for the science outcome. In one project, Brazilian researchers participated in interviews of land users in Peru and Ecuador, and vice versa, as a means to offset the common tendency of researchers to assume that what they know about their own country equally applies to others. The mixing of interviewers from different nationalities also contributed to the comparative analysis by sensitizing researchers to similarities and differences that would otherwise have been overlooked.

The word stakeholders appeared in many analyses of policy relevance. Earth Summit 2002 defined stakeholders as "those who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group ... [including] people who influence a decision, or can influence it, as well as those affected by it." This broad definition includes everyone related to a research project: its participants, its objects, and even its funders. Often the roles were changed by or during a project. In one case, project stakeholder engagement was secured through subcontracting only. In another, stakeholder engagement was triggered by a convincing environmental threat but rapidly waned when economic concerns became more prevalent in people's minds. The need for a perceived threat makes early stakeholder engagement in GEC science difficult since the science may be needed first to describe the threat fully. The divide between investigator perceptions and public or national policy agendas inhibits early engagement. On the other hand, NGOs may share agendas and may stay engaged with both policy and science.

Many of the case studies presented in this book are anecdotal. Some stand out for the poverty of their engagement and insight. In their entirety, though, the studies characterize the imperfect process of developing policy relevance, links to society, and stakeholder involvement in GEC science. The GEC science community is an exponent of the process of developing policy relevance because its science is increasingly driven by societal concerns. The critical analysis of the case studies is based on background chapters on communication, institutions, societal vulnerability, interdisciplinarity between social and natural sciences, and international conventions as legal frameworks. This analysis is presented in these crosscutting chapters: Steering Research toward Policy Relevance; Stakeholders and Global Environmental Change Science; Delivering Global Environmental Change Science to the Policy Process; and Communicating Science to the Media, Decision Makers, and the Public. The many and varied experiences and their analyses provide valuable lessons for improving the process of including societal and policy relevance into GEC science and science in general. The process is certainly needed as societies demand returns for their investments into a science that is needed to solve critical problems of societies and their well-being in a changing world.


Steering Research toward Policy Relevance

Mark D. Stauffer, Walter E. Baethgen, Ricardo L. Berbara, Ernesto Caetano, Alejandro Castellanos, Barbara Göbel, Michael E. McClain, Rômulo S.C. Menezes, and Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa

This chapter addresses the challenge of making global change research relevant to policy makers, that is, influencing local and/or national policies as they are being configured. We approach the interface between science and policy from a specific angle: the experience of the researchers involved in Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) projects. We are not taking into account the perspective of the other stakeholders, and therefore this chapter is not intended as a systematic assessment of the policy impact of the research projects. However, valuable insight was garnered by this process of review, analysis, and synthesis. Interviews with all principal investigators revealed varying degrees of commitment and means to achieve policy relevance in the research projects even though relevance was not thoroughly planned (i.e., appropriate policy development expertise was not included). The lessons learned should help both the IAI and its Collaborative Research Network (CRN) principal investigators achieve greater policy relevance.


Excerpted from Communicating Global Change Science to Society by Holm Tiessen, Mike Brklacich, Gerhard Breulmann, Rômulo S. C. Menezes. Copyright © 2007 Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Figures, Tables, and Boxes xi

Foreword by Margaret S. Leinen and Paul E. Filmer xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Why This Book? An Introduction and Synthesis Holm Tiessen 1

Part I Crosscutting Issues

2 Steering Research toward Policy Relevance Mark D. Stauffer Walter E. Baethgen Ricardo L. Berbara Ernesto Caetano Alejandro Castellanos Barbara Göet;bel Michael E. McClain R&ohat;mulo S. C. Menezes Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa 9

3 Stakeholders and Global Environmental Change Science Mike Brklacich I. Foster Brown Edmo J. D. Campos Alex Krusche Allan Lavell Kam-biu Liu Juan J. Jiménez-Osornio Susanne Reyes-Knoche Charles Wood 21

4 Delivering Global Environmental Change Science to the Policy Process John Ingram John Stone Ulisses Confalonieri Theresa Garvin Peter R. Jutro Carlos A. Klink Brian H. Luckman Elke Noellemeyer Peter M. de Toledo 35

5 Communicating Science to the Media, Decision Makers, and the Public Theo Beckers Maureen Woodrow Paul E. Filmer S&ohat;nia M. F. Gianesella Laura Gallardo Klenner Carlos A. Klink Jean-Fran&ccidle;ois Tourrand Peter Weingart 45

Part II Background Chapters

6 Communicating Science in Democratic Media Societies Peter Weingart 55

7 Institutions as Initiators and Users of Science Peter R. Jutro 63

8 Vulnerabilities of Societies under Global Environmental Change (GEC) Mike Brklacich May Chazan Andrew Dawe 73

9 What Social and Natural Sciences Could Learn from Each Other: The Challenge of Interdisciplinarity Barbara Göet;bel 89

10 Legal Frameworks and Biodiversity: The Impact of Ownership and Control of Biodiversity on Science Susanne Reyes-Knoche 97

Part III Examples of the Science-Policy Interface

11Integrating Environmental and Social Agendas: The Experience of the Amazonian Networks LBA and GEOMA Peter M. de Toledo; Ima C. G. Vieira Gilberto C&ahat;mara Carlos A. Nobre 109

12 Assessment of Present, Past, and Future Climate Variability in the Americas from Treeline Environments Brian H. Luckman 119

13 Climate Variability and Its Impacts in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Victor Magaña Ernesto Caetano 129

14 Stakeholders and Decision Makers in a Study of Global Changes in the South Atlantic Edmo J. D. Campos Alberto R. Piola 135

15 Climate Variability and Climate Changes in the Southern Cone Marion N. Nuñez 143

16 Land Use Change in Semiarid Americas: Biogeochemistry, Societal Impact, and Policies R&ohat;mulo S. C. Menezes Elke Noellemeyer Ignácio H. Salcedo Juan J. Jiménez-Osornio Holm Tiessen 147

17 Cattle Ranching, Land Use, and Deforestation in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru Charles H. Wood Jean-Fran&ccidle;ois Tourrand 157

18 Global Change Effects on the Vegetation of Tropical High Mountains and Savannas Carlos A. Klink Juan F. Silva Aura Azócar Juan González Ricardo Herrera-Peraza 165

19 Linking Global Change Research to Improved Policies and Management for Amazonian Rivers Michael E. McClain Remigion Galárraga-Sánchez Carlos A. Llerena José Efrain Ruiz 171

20 Mediated Modeling for Integrating Science and Stakeholders: Impacts of Enhanced Ultraviolet-B Radiation on Ecosystem Services Marjan van den Belt Robert Costanza Serge Demers Susana Diaz Gustavo A. Ferreyra S&ohat;nia M. F. Gianesella Evamaria W. Koch Fernando R. Momo Maria Vernet 179

21 ENSO and Risk Management: Natural and Social Sciences, Policy Implications, and Stakeholder Participation Allan Lavell 187

22 Diagnostics and Prediction of Climate Variation and Human Health Impacts Ulisses Confalonieri 195

List of Contributors 200

Scope Series List 207

Scope Executive Committee 2005-2008 210

Index 211

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