Overline: Transdisciplinarity
Headline: How to Make Science-Policy Engagement More Accessible to Researchers

Science and policy are not worlds apart. They interact in countless ways and would both benefit from closer cooperation. This has become clearer than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. A team of researchers has now investigated deficiencies on the science side and shown how science-policy can be done better.

Die Pandemie hat gezeigt, wie wichtig eine gute Wissenschaft-Politik-Interaktion ist.
Die Pandemie hat gezeigt, wie wichtig eine gute Wissenschaft-Politik-Interaktion ist. Shutterstock/Janon Stock

In a commentary in the journal Earth’s Future, Erika von Schneidemesser (IASS), Megan Melamed (International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project) and Julia Schmale (École Polytechnique Fédérale the Lausanne) write that global challenges and our dependence on scientific and technological advancements make intensive science-policy engagement indispensable.

On the one hand, policy has an important role to play in science. Politicians need to regulate research on contentious issues, for example interventions in the climate or genetic engineering in humans. Politicians also decide on what areas of research are earmarked for funding.

On the other hand, the authors write, we need more science in policy. Stronger science-policy cooperation could mean that scientific insights are reflected more consistently in policy decisions. “Science is just one of many voices in the policymaking process, and it’s often quite a weak voice,” says lead author Erika von Schneidemesser. “There’s often a lack of understanding among researchers about what science-policy actually is and the possibilities they have to contribute to it.”

Titled “Prepare Scientists to Engage in Science‐Policy”, the article highlights the areas where the gaps between science and policy are particularly wide and makes four recommendations for bridging them:

Frame Science‐Policy as a System

The authors want to challenge the perception that science and policy are two different worlds with just one interface. “That suggests that scientists do science, findings get packaged to be sent across an interface, and then policy uses it. But it doesn’t work like that. The notion of a ‘science‐policy system’ is a better reflection of the reality, where the policy and science processes are constantly changing and interacting with each other,” explains von Schneidemesser. A systemic approach would also make clear the need for longer-term rather than one-off exchanges between the two areas.

Teach the Science‐Policy System

The authors believe that science students should be exposed to science‐policy as part of their university education. “Be it in an introductory course or an advanced seminar, it’s important that scientists have the opportunity to determine whether they wish to delve further into the science‐policy system,” says von Schneidemesser. Personal experiences, including examples of best practices, successes, and failures, should be part and parcel of this curriculum.

Engage in the Science‐Policy System

There is a wide range of opportunities for engaging in the science‐policy system. Scientists can write reports for governments, engage in dialogue with ministries, participate in research projects involving political actors, or even choose to pursue a political career.

Value Engagement in the Science‐Policy System

The authors are critical of the fact that active science-policy engagement does not receive the recognition it deserves. They recommend that scientific institutions value this engagement – in the same way they value scientific publications or successful applications for research funding – and create new incentive systems with that in mind.

Author: Veronika Fritz


von Schneidemesser, E., Melamed, M., & Schmale, J. (2020). Prepare Scientists to Engage in Science‐Policy. Earth's Future, 8(11): e2020EF001628. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EF001628