Valuing good engagement process and individual outcomes in decision-maker engagement with science

Valuing good engagement process and individual outcomes in decision-maker engagement with science

Author: Ruth O’Connor – Australian National University, Australia

Joan Leach – Australian National University
Lilly Lim-Camacho – CSIRO
Fabien Medvecky – University of Otago
Jeanne Nel – Vrije Universiteit

The science communication discourse in relation to public policy has largely focussed—for good reason—on how to democratise decision-making processes around controversial issues. This focus has contributed to the framing of decision-makers as stakeholders or sponsors of engagement. Here we use two case studies to illustrate an alternative view of decision-makers as diverse publics directly engaging with science to foster informed decision-making. One case describes regional Australian natural resource managers engaging with climate change adaptation science, the other South African water resource decision-makers engaging with freshwater conservation science.

The case studies suggest that both the processes and outcomes of science engagement can have value to individual decision-makers and their institutions. Decision-makers valued engagement processes that improved their access to science and enabled them to deliberate and reflect upon the implications and application of science. The practical and local knowledge of co-participants was critical in this but not always explicitly recognised. Likewise the process of selecting science content by groups facilitating engagement was not always transparent. We suggest evaluation of decision-maker engagement processes should therefore include transparency of knowledge selection and how deliberation and reflection were enabled.

While decision-makers valued the processes of engagement, their key pre-occupation was achieving on-ground impact, such as species protection. We will discuss why such expectations from engagement are problematic and point to alternatives found in the cases. These include outcomes for individuals and institutions such as development of new ways of framing and approaching problems, learning, and better professional networks. These findings suggest work is needed to better articulate the valuable outcomes of engagement and explore how they may contribute to both better decisions and desired on-ground impacts.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Influencing policies through science communication