The Role of Resilience Scientists in Interactions between Science and Policy

Lay summary by Alexis Martin

The relationship between science and policy has evolved significantly to address global challenges such as the hole in the ozone layer, planetary boundaries, and climate change. There are different opinions on the appropriate role for scientists in policy processes or when sharing their research with society. Some think that scientists always have to remain objective — offering facts (for example, about the effects of water pollution on plants and animals) but withholding judgment on what should be done about these facts. Others believe that all science is in some sense subjective — driven by the values and beliefs of scientists themselves. The authors of this article suggest that resilience scientists take a position somewhere between these two extremes, what they call a more hybrid approach. They argue that resilience scientists, should reflect on the values that motivate their scientific work (e.g., maintaining resilience of social-ecological systems) and the implications of those value commitments for their policy engagement.

With the emergence of increasingly challenging global environmental challenges, the traditional perception of science as a mere provider of truths is increasingly untenable. Scientists and policy-makers need to work together to address these challenges, blurring the line between science and policy. This blurriness is emphasized by the need for new approaches to solve complex problems in policy through interdisciplinary collaboration, putting all actors on the same level of authority. While this appears necessary, it also raises concerns about the political power of scientific concepts and ideas, and important questions concerning the nature of knowledge and facts as opposed to beliefs and values.

Resilience science focuses on the linkages between social-ecological systems and the institutions that manage them. The interdisciplinary approach to science implies that resilience scientists often seek to conduct objective research while nudging social-ecological systems towards more sustainable and resilient states at the same time. The authors point out that the specific perspective and subject matter of resilience science thus places it in the hybrid area between science and policy.

The authors argue that there are three practical approaches that resilience scientists can take to navigate policy engagement: truth-seeking (objective), change-maker (subjective), and a hybrid of the two. Given these options, there are inherent benefits and risks to any role that resilience scientists may take. Wider engagement of stakeholders in science can lead to further institutional change, as well as the opportunity to create more effective policies that incorporate a diversity of knowledge. On the other hand, scientists may be accused of having non-scientific motives, criticized and misrepresented in mass media, as well as loss credibility in their career. Resilience scientists must walk a fine line when navigating the science-policy interface, regardless of what path of engagement they choose.

By having an open discussion of their role of in policy and institutional change processes, the authors believe that resilience scientists may be able to advance their thinking on where they stand in the science-policy dialogue.

For further information

Read the Environmental Science & Policy original research article which this summary is based on Resilience scientists as change-makers — Growing the middle ground between science and advocacy? (August 2014).

Visit the profile of the research ambassador, Alexis Martin, who wrote this summary.

STM Digest is a collection of lay summaries published next to original research articles on ScienceDirect, provided free of charge, and accessible to everyone.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.