Making sense of science for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty

Working group members

Ortwin Renn
Chair
Professor
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam
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Maria Baghramian
Professor
University College Dublin
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Massimo Capaccioli
Professor (Emeritus)
University of Naples Federico II
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Sarah de Rijcke
Professor
Leiden University
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Kirsten Drotner
Professor
University of Southern Denmark
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Louis Dubertret
Professor
National Academy of Technologies of France
Alan Irwin
Professor
Copenhagen Business School
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Tadeusz Luty
Professor
Wrocław University of Science and Technology
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Marja Makarow
Professor
Biocenter Finland
Christina Moberg
Professor
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
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Alexandru-Mihail Morega
Professor
Polytechnic University of Bucharest
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Susan Elizabeth Owens
Professor (Emerita)
University of Cambridge
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Nils-Eric Sahlin
Professor
Lund University
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Andrew Stirling
Professor
University of Sussex
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Jeroen P. van der Sluijs
Professor
University of Bergen & Utrecht University
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Dario Vretenar
Professor
University of Zagreb
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Now more than ever, policymakers need good quality science advice to inform their decisions, and the very policy issues for which scientific input is most needed are the ones where the science itself is often complex and uncertain.

What the report says

The report highlights the fact that many of the world's most pressing problems are also incredibly complex -- including climate change, environmental pollution, economic crises and the digital transformation of societies. What’s more, the scientific knowledge around these areas can often be uncertain or contested.

  • Science is one of many sources of knowledge that inform policy. Its unique strength is that it is based on rigorous enquiry, continuous analysis and debate, providing a set of evidence that can be respected as valid, relevant and reliable.
  • Science advice supports effective policymaking by providing the best available knowledge, which can then be used to understand a specific problem, generate and evaluate policy options and monitor results of policy implementation. It also provides meaning to the discussion around critical topics within society.  The advice works best when it is guided by the ideal of co-creation of knowledge and policy options between scientists and policymakers.
  • The relationship between science advisers and policymakers relies on building mutual trust, where both scientists and policymakers are honest about their values and goals.
  • Scientific knowledge should always inform societal debate and decision-making. Citizens often have their own experiences of the policy issue under consideration and should be included in the ongoing process of deliberation between scientists, policymakers and the public.

Debate and impact

Media coverageEventsAcademic impactPolicy impact
  • Australian Academy of Science: Science Policy and Diplomacy newsletter—INGSA Covid-19 special edition October 2020 (October 2020)
  • Academia Europaea 30th Anniversary
    The report was discussed in the panel debate Making sense of science.
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    Electrotechnics and Power Engineering - Section meeting
    ATEE is the forum that stimulates active and effective exchange of information between researchers in various areas of theoretical and applied electrical engineering. The working group and the process of writing the report was briefly presented.
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    Welsh Policy and Politics in Unprecedented Times
    A poster was presented at this event that brought together academics at all stages of their career as well as representatives from Welsh Government and civil society to discuss these questions, current and future practices, and opportunities for Welsh policy and politics.
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    Policy Skills Workshop
    A one-day workshop exploring how to collaborate with policy institutions as an academic; communicate research effectively to policy makers; transition from academia to a policy career. The upcoming report was shortly presented.
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    Shaping Horizons 2019
    Shaping Horizons was the first international summit and action programme on science, policy and innovation for a changing world, gathering 150 young leaders from across the UK and Latin America to engage with senior world leaders and ignite change. The report was presented in a session on evidence-based policy.
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    European Research & Innovation Days
    Our report was discussed during a panel debate at the European Research and Innovation Days. The main findings of the report were presented by the chair of the SAPEA working group Ortwin Renn.
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    Making sense of science event in Oslo
    SAPEA, Academia Europaea’s Bergen Knowledge Hub and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters hosted an event focusing on our recent report on science advice for policy. The event will take place on 4 November 2019 in Oslo, Norway.
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    The future of science advice in Europe
    The event was organised in the context of the Finnish presidency of the Council of the EU, and the developing plans by Finland to create a new science advice mechanism for the country. It included a workshop based on the report.
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    Znanost sreca parlament 2019
    Our report was extensively discussed at a Slovenian government event co-organised by the European Commission.

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    Making Sense of Science for Policy; panel discussion at University of Cambridge
    A panel from SAPEA will discuss the recent report addressing the question of how to provide good science advice to policymakers.
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    Royal Irish Academy Workshop on ‘Making Sense of Science for Policy under Conditions of Complexity and Uncertainty’
    This Royal Irish Academy workshop, which will hear from high-level experts, will discuss the findings of the report and reflect on what insights might be applied to science advice in Ireland. The discussion paper following the event is available on-line.
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    Science advice: what works in a crisis?
    In this 90-minute webinar, chief science advisors, experts and staff of the European Commission will reflect on how effectively Europe is rising to the challenge and what lessons can be learned for the future. They will share practical experiences of giving science advice in the face of unprecedented complexity, uncertainty and public visibility during the outbreak; as well as how best to apply science advice frameworks and practices to secure greater resilience in the aftermath of Covid-19.
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