Barriers/ solutions to the use of evidence in policy (environmental science)

Some examples of the stated ‘barriers’ to the use of evidence in policy, from the environmental science/ policy literature (to match those found in health by Oliver et al, 2014). See here for more details.

Improve the supply of, and/or generate demand for, scientific evidence
(a) the evidence on the problem is not good enough
Until the 1990s, polices to influence climate change behaviour were hindered by the lack of evidence-based indicators of the effect of consumption on the environment. From the 1990s, scientists developed good monitoring tools, but few policymakers became aware of them (Barrett et al, 2005: 38).
Poor policy decisions are often underpinned by poor evidence on ecological history (Hamilton and Penny, 2015)
EU attempts to monitor and advise on the environmental impacts of agricultural practices are hampered by insufficient data (Louwagie et al, 2012: 149-50)
New models should be developed address the paucity of data underpinning policy on climactic vulnerability and adaptation (Malcolm et al, 2014)
The lack of local-area-specific knowledge undermines the effectiveness of otherwise evidence-based land management policies (Molnár, 2014).
Environmental scientists should from evidence based medicine, to producing a database of systematic reviews and policy-relevant synopses (Dicks et al, 2014: 119; Carneiro and da-Silva-Rosa, 2011: 3; Cvitanovic et al, 2013; Cvitanovic et al, 2014; Webb et al, 2012: 203).
(b) the evidence on the solution is not good enough
There is a lack of comprehensive databases of systematic reviews on biodiversity policy. Existing work is presented in a language that is too technical or politically naïve for busy public managers to take on board, and many studies do not provide a clear answer to pressing policy questions (Carneiro and Danton, 2011).
The scientific evidence base on climate change policy interventions is ‘surprisingly weak for such a high profile area’. ‘There is too little systematic climate policy evaluation work in the EU to support systematic evidence- based policy making’ (Haug et al, 2010: 427).
Current performance management practices do not allow us to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation programmes, because organisations measure what is easy to measure (Rissman and Smail, 2015).
(c) the evidence needs to be ‘packaged’ well (easy to understand, framed in a way that is attractive to policymakers, and/ or accompanied by realistic expectations for policy change)
Academics should repackage their work according to the needs of their ‘end user’ – such as by providing pragmatic recommendations or information that helps them predict events and plan ahead – and use ‘knowledge brokers’ (Cvitanovic et al, 2013: 85; Cvitanovic et al, 2014: 35-6).
Policymakers will often not respond to an alleged policy problem if there is not an obvious solution (Lalor and Hickey, 2014: 10-12)
The rise of sophisticated policy assessment tools (such as models) is caused more by technological advance than a demand for information in this form. Simple qualitative stories ‘backed up by illustrative statistics … appeared largely driven by the need to present easily digestible analysis to the decision maker if one wanted the assessment to be instrumentally useful’ (Nilsson et al, 2008: 348).
The carbon capture and storage (CCS) community has a coherent and uniform message for policymakers, which may help explain its major funding successes in the EU (Stephens et al, 2011: 388)
Government reports provide vast amounts of evidence but their links to effective policy are weak, partly because the reports come with unrealistic shopping lists for action (Wellstead and Stedman, 2014: 1000).
Scientists struggle to translate knowledge and concepts about risk to policymakers, stakeholders and the public (Yuen et al, 2013).
(d) engage in networks and academic-practitioner workshops
There is high participant demand to identify best practice in academic-practitioner exchange (or at least to find quick/ easy solutions to gulfs in their relationships), and a belief that regular interaction helps build up trust or ‘social capital’ (Hickey et al, 2013: 539).
To adapt to complex policymaking systems, scientists need to engage in collaborative/ participatory government rather than feed in evidence to the centre (Lalor and Hickey, 2014).
(e) use intermediaries
There is a need for ‘hybrid people’ but an absence of unanimous ‘upper management’ support (in public bodies in Canada and Australia) for ‘knowledge brokers’ (Hickey et al, 2013: 534).
Timing and opportunity
Policymakers value timely and responsive research, but scientists face big time lags in publication (Cvitanovic et al, 2014: 38)
‘Relationships of trust and establishment of expert credibility matter greatly in the acceptance of knowledge claims’ (in international climate change treaty negotiations) (Rowe, 2013: 221)
Despite a new agenda on timely and policy-relevant research (on dryland policies in Africa) the evidence remains ‘sparse’ (Stringer and Dougill, 2013: 328).
Encourage policymaker skills or better government understanding of problems
Governments tend to deal with environmental crises rather than plan for the long term. A lack of government commitment to collecting policy-relevant data produces often undetected policy failures (Clare and Creed, 2014: 243)
Policymakers rely on personal experience and expert advice, not systematic searches of the literature (Carneiro and da-Silva-Rosa, 2011: 1; Cvitanovic, 2013: 85)
Many policy managers do not prioritise scientific evidence and are unaware of advances in adaptation science. Policymakers often have poor knowledge of environmental risks, and their priorities often do not reflect the best evidence (Cvitanovic et al, 2014: 38)
Ministers do not understand the data from the sophisticated policy assessment tools that they, ‘have been so keen to advocate and nurture’ (Nilsson et al, 2008: 350). Rickards et al (2014: 654) provide similar conclusions on scenario planning. As in the nomenclature on evidence-informed policy, they identify ‘scenario methods’ or ‘scenario thinking’
UK government ministers appear unwilling or unable to engage in the systematic review of the evidence on business regulation (Taylor et al, 2013).

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Filed under Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM)

One response to “Barriers/ solutions to the use of evidence in policy (environmental science)

  1. Pingback: The barriers to evidence based policymaking in environmental policy | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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