By focusing on biodiversity and the environment, the EU-funded project EKLIPSE closes a long-standing gap between scientific knowledge and policy-making. It answers policy-relevant questions at the European scale and, by doing so, supports evidence-informed policy. Say you’re an urban planner investigating nature-based solutions for urban areas, or a decision-maker wanting to know more about the impact of pesticides on nearby pollinator conservation measures. A few years ago, getting an answer to your questions would have required the involvement of a consultancy and/or the funding of a research project. Around 5 years later, you would finally have the answer to your question… in the form of dozens of scientific papers.
The art of the possible
The trouble is, 5 years is an eternity in politics. By the time the scientific knowledge on specific biodiversity or ecosystem services-related issues is made available, an entire government can change – and so can its priorities. Likewise, too much information can complicate the decision-making process. So how could this expert-consulting process be accelerated, simplified and improved? “Whilst a wealth of scientific evidence and other information exists on the status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services, converting this into ‘usable knowledge’ remains a challenge,” says Marie Vandewalle, co-coordinator of the EKLIPSE project on behalf of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). “Evidence is often framed too narrowly, fails to address different perspectives and uncertainties, and does not allow for impact evaluation on the ground. Overall, dealing with biodiversity and the environment involves high levels of uncertainty, complexity, diverse values and many different sectors with multiple and often conflicting objectives.” To overcome these problems, EKLIPSE’s robust process consists in setting up expert working groups to provide credible, legitimate, relevant and well-synthesised evidence in 8 to 18 months. Over a span of 4 years, the consortium has launched five calls for requests allowing policy-makers and other societal actors to point at topics of interest and evidence needs. They received a total of 44 requests from the likes of the European Commission, IUCN, French Ministry of the Environment and Buglife – 13 of which have been selected for their policy relevance and processed. “EKLIPSE responds to the evidence needs of requesters by synthesising the best available knowledge in a way that facilitates actionable policy recommendations. For each request, we identify and tailor a set of best available methods to review, collate and communicate existing knowledge depending on the caller’s needs,” Vandewalle explains. Transparency is at the core of the process, with concrete ethical measures from conflict of self-interest declarations to peer review of the final reports.
Forging a framework for future research
One example of an EKLIPSE contribution is the development of a framework for future research on nature-based solutions for the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation. The latter is already used by research projects and makes it much easier to generate comparable results and draw conclusions across different projects. “We also received a request from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which was interested in how regulators can incentivise the sustainability and improve the impacts on biodiversity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector. EKLIPSE ensured the request was addressed in such a way that it provides useful reference to regulators across the European Union,” Heidi Wittmer, co-coordinator of EKLIPSE, explains. Now that the EKLIPSE mechanism has been proven to work in practice, the consortium has begun a transitional phase ahead of the project’s completion in 2020. The mechanism will then be permanently transferred under the management of the ALTER-Net Network. Several funding streams – European Commission, private requesters, crowdfunding and foundations/donations – have been identified to fund future requests. “We hope EKLIPSE will prove to be the future of better decision-making on biodiversity-related issues, and that it will be used as a successful model for other science-policy interfaces,” Vandewalle concludes.
EKLIPSE, biodiversity, environment, support mechanism, decision-making, knowledge, expert working groups