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IDP Bridging Plant Science and Policy

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Plant scientists trained to close science-policy gap

As the world strays away from science-based policy, growing human populations strain global resources. A researcher training programme has begun to close the gap between scientists and policymakers.

Food and Natural Resources

With global population projected to reach 9.1 billion people by 2050, unsustainable use of resources and devastation of all types of habitats, humans are threatening the future of world resources. It has therefore never been more important to make sure that science policy is in line with what scientists are saying. It is urgent that humankind acts and makes decisions in a coordinated and global effort to mitigate their consequences. This is according to Dr Melanie Paschke of the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center and member of the IDP BRIDGES team. “Our climate system is approaching a new state. Biodiversity losses are endangering ecosystem services; pests are globally spreading and threatening our food security,” she says. “Current social transformation is linked to an erosion of legitimacy of institutions as well as experts, and scientists need to act in a new role as intermediates between science, policy and society.” The EU-funded IDP BRIDGES initiative aimed to let plant scientists reflect on the science-society-policy interface and how it relates to their research early in their career. The programme sought to shape plant scientists who are supra-disciplinary in mind, multidisciplinary in skills and rigorous in their scientific excellence. The project was coordinated by ETH Zurich (Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich) and began by recruiting 14 early-stage researchers into an innovative research training programme at the science-policy and science-innovation interface. The programme consisted of associated partners based in five EU Member States and eight developing countries, exposing researchers to different working environments and contexts. IDP BRIDGES trained the early-stage scientists to build relationships with policymakers and to integrate scientific evidence into the policymaking process. The researchers followed a unique training programme where they were provided with a set of skills to effectively frame societal problems. The programme trained the researchers in how to facilitate participatory dialogue, and to build and evaluate different policy options and their implementation. Two supervisors based in two different organisations jointly supervised each of the early-stage researchers; one supervisor from plant sciences and the other from a science policy organisation. IDP BRIDGES has already led to the publication of 18 peer-reviewed scientific articles, with more expected. The programme also led to a patent that resulted in a recently launched spin-off company (Epibreed AG) and an award of an ERC Consolidator Grant for BUNGEE (Directed crop breeding using jumping genes), due to run for five years to 2022. The training programme led to science-policy contributions, stakeholder workshops, management recommendations for farmers and experts, and several information and dialogue events for the public. IDP BRIDGES held public round tables, moderated by fellows, such as ‘Plant Sciences, Patents and Food Security’ and ‘Innovation vs. Regulation of Novel Breeding Technologies’. One fellow contributed to the European Academies Science Advisory Council’s working group on Genome Editing and a related report. Another fellow produced a booklet, ‘Bees and pollination in the coffee estates’, which has been distributed to coffee farmers in Kodagu, India. A ESR micro-blog, through which stakeholders can receive information about biodiversity and forest ecosystem functioning on their mobile phones was created by one of the young scientists. A fact sheet for adapted seed mixtures and management of grasslands under drought for Swiss seed breeders and farmers was yet another IDP BRIDGES product from training. Alumni of the programme will attend career events for the current cohort of early-stage researchers to share their experiences on working in the science-policy field. “Researchers from our network have now been invited by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission to participate in a collaborative doctoral partnership at the plant science-policy boundary and four fellowships are currently being negotiated,” Dr Paschke says. Research training in IDP BRIDGES was linked to challenges in Horizon 2020, including food security and sustainable agriculture, climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials. Among the benefits of the IDP BRIDGES programme will be the sustainable use of land, which is linked to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ongoing related work after project end will address SDGs such as sustainable agriculture, climate action, life below water, life on land, and good jobs and economic growth.


IDP BRIDGES, plant science, early-stage researchers, food security, science policy

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