Last 24th June, the Research and Innovation Days celebrated the panel on “Re-imagining science advice to Policy after COVID-19. How to build a stronger, better-connected ecosystem in Europe. The event was chaired by Patrick Child, Deputy Director General in DG Research and Innovation. If interested, you may watch it on YouTube.
I will highlight here my top 12-take-home messages from the four science for policy experts who participated in the panel, together with current efforts led by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in the field and that are directly related to their messages.
Nicole Grobert, Chair of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisers (GCSA) of the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM):
Science advice and science advisers have been on the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was difficult for them to solve such a complex problem with such high-levels of uncertainty.
Communication, trust and training for both policymakers and scientists are fundamental.
The JRC has trained over 500 scientists with the Science for Policy internal course, launched an online course on EU academy, and has established a Training of Trainers programme this year to reach further.
More about Learning and development opportunities.
Young Academies have a great value in science for policy. Science advice must be transdisciplinary, but also importantly, transgenerational!
Science advice must be transparent and rely on a legal mandate, to be covered and protected by a legal framework. Key to distinguish advice for internal governmental use from advice that is publicly communicated, how to establish legal boundaries between the two?
Although not legally obliging, the Better Regulation sets norms for policymakers to consult with scientists and consider scientific evidence. More mandates that are formal may be worth studying.
There is a global trend to move from individual advisers to systems advice. So bringing together systems of science advisers across the EU and its Member States is key. ESAF is tackling the challenge of most operational advice being conducted in national language.
This message of systems advice is directly aligned with our JRC programme to strengthen and better connect science for policy ecosystems.
Science advisers have to be ready to stand next to their leaders, to explain the evidence and defend it publicly. But who the leaders choose for that task is indeed a political decision.
Anne-Greet Keizer, research fellow and international liaison officer at the WRR, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, which delivers governmental science advice:
Being one of the best scientists in a certain field does not qualify you to be on the public spotlight. Performing as a science adviser requires craftsmanship skills: to be able to communicate to policymakers and the general public the core characteristics of the scientific process, to explain scientific insights and uncertainties, and to manage frustration when policymakers don’t necessarily follow their recommendations.
Science advisers, policymakers and general public need all to have the full picture of how we take decisions. The JRC Report Understanding Our Political Nature, recently translated to French, German, Italian, and Spanish, delves on misperception and disinformation, collective intelligence, emotions; framing, metaphors and narrative; trust and openness; and evidence-informed policymaking.
Science advice infrastructures and processes must be already prepared and in place to tackle emergencies more efficiently. A WRR report identifies three needs about science advice in times of COVID-19: (i) adaptability of advisers and science for policy infrastructures to provide different type of advice, (ii) improving multidisciplinary advice, and (iii) assigning different responsibilities between advisers and policymakers.
The JRC is an exemplary institution that undertakes scientific research across all disciplines and provide active advice to the European Commission. Other current science advice structures such as SAM help underpin evidence-informed policymaking in European policies.
International collaboration and exchange, peer-learning and capacity-building exercises between science advice practitioners across the EU and its MS would be welcomed, particularly to work around specific topics that are imminent global crises (ie, climate emergency).
As part of our e-workshop series focused on single national ecosystems of science for policy, we bring national and international experts to undertake a SWOT analysis of these national ecosystems, and so we provide workshop reports with specific recommendations to tackle challenges and take advantage of opportunities. Workshop reports have been produced for Belgium, Estonia, Denmark, and Latvia, and are available upon request. Next in our pipeline are: Greece, Portugal, and Lithuania.
And Nathalie Berger, Director for Support to Member States’ Reforms of DG REFORM:
There was an uneven level of research and science advice across MS to liaise with the pandemic. We need to work together to reduce this capability gap with the idea that the response cannot be an isolated one, public administrations and scientific organisations must collaborate.
A full picture of early lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is available in this Communication.
The Technical Support Instrument (TSI) of DG REFORM is helping countries such as Lithuania and Austria to build new institutions and processes so that policymaking is better rooted in scientific evidence. DG REFORM encourages experience exchange between MS by developing multi-country projects that build on the efforts of our JRC to reinforce the use of evidence across the EU. Indeed, around 8 MS have already expressed their interest for mutual learning, better science advice structures, domestic and cross-border networking, and producing operational recommendations and roadmaps.
We in the JRC are helping to make this multi-country project real, with the active engagement with different MS as a follow-up exercise from our e-workshop series of Strengthening and better connecting science for policy ecosystems in the EU and its Member States. We believe this joint exercise between different MS and the EC will deliver great results and added value to the European project, by nurturing a reinforcing a well-connected European community of practitioners.
If we want administrations fit for future, governments and policymakers fit for the future, uptaking multidisciplinary science advice has to be on the day to day of policy thinking. Working together, being multidisciplinary, making proper use of all scientific advice that we can find across all MS. Stop working in silos and start working together!
The competence framework for policymakers and researchers which our colleagues Lene Topp and Florian Schwendinger are about to publish delves on the skills to collaborate and bring together these two professions. You may consult this paper “Knowledge management for policy impact: the case of the European Commisssion’s Joint Research Centre” by Topp et al. (2018) to have a taste.
A more succinct explanation has been tweeted by my colleague Marta Sienkiewicz: https://twitter.com/martahenia/status/1408065327427035142?s=20
Hope this is of your interest!
Lorenzo Melchor, PhD
Knowledge for Policy: Concepts and Methods Unit (JRC.H1)
Joint Research Centre, the Commission's science and knowledge service