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Building bridges between researchers and policymakers

Many EU policy areas, such as climate change and the environment, benefit immensely from the results of research. Yet research could contribute far more to policymaking than it currently does. The problem is that there are still relatively few links between the research and po...

Many EU policy areas, such as climate change and the environment, benefit immensely from the results of research. Yet research could contribute far more to policymaking than it currently does. The problem is that there are still relatively few links between the research and policymaking communities. However, the European Commission is taking active steps to change this, as Philippe Quevauviller of the European Commission's Research Directorate-General explained in an interview with CORDIS News. He was involved in the organisation of a recent workshop which saw over 80 scientists and policymakers come together for 2 days to discuss climate change and water-related disasters like droughts and floods. The event was organised jointly with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, and followed a first event on natural hazards that was held in October 2009. 'The aim was to see how we can improve the links between science and policymakers,' Mr Quevauviller told CORDIS News. 'The two communities often have difficulties communicating with one another.' During the event, scientists presented their latest research results and policymakers offered their perspectives on the matter. Importantly, the two groups engaged in productive discussions with one another. 'The workshop showed that there is a real willingness to build bridges,' commented Mr Quevauviller, adding that participants told him that they felt they had learnt a lot from the experience. The event resulted in a number of recommendations on how to forge lasting links between scientists and policymakers. For example, there is a need for effective, long-lasting platforms to be set up so as to optimise the way research is used at international, European, national, regional and local levels. 'We need sustained structures and relays established from EU to local levels - we can't just rely on willing individuals,' emphasised Mr Quevauviller, noting that a system based on individuals quickly falls apart if those people change job. When putting together project consortia, social and policy teams should be encouraged to work alongside natural scientists to improve the transfer of results that could be relevant to policymakers. A good deal of thought needs to be devoted to the way scientific results are transmitted to policymakers. A positive move in this respect is the introduction of 'science-policy briefs', which provide scientific insights into specific policy questions; recent briefs dealing with drought have proven popular with environmental agencies across the EU. However, more effort is needed in this area. As Mr Quevauviller points out, you need to go first to the top decision-makers. 'However, if you communicate in a lengthy, academic way, no one will read it!' he said. He believes that more recognition should be given to people who can 'translate' research findings into a language that policymakers can understand, and who recognise that senior policymakers may only have the time to read very short summaries of findings. If the senior policymaker is interested, he or she will pass the entire document on to the relevant team for a more thorough analysis. Funds should also be invested in developing technical guides describing how to make the best use of research findings and translating them into different languages, as many policymakers may struggle to understand a document sent to them in English. At the same time, policymakers need to be able to define their short- and long-term research needs on the basis of well-defined policy milestones and communicate these needs to researchers. This workshop went a long way towards fostering links between scientists investigating climate change and water-related disasters and the policymakers responsible for these issues at international and EU levels. Two further workshops are planned for October - one on adaptation to climate change and one on the economic modelling of mitigation costs.