Science-policy relations: who is influencing whom?
Jensen-Ryan, Danielle Keylee
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This dissertation research investigated the relationship between environmental science and policy, with the aim of finding common ground for strengthening the role of scientific evidence in policy development. This project is important as humanity faces increasingly intractable environmental problems characterized by high uncertainty, complexity, and swift change (Crona and Parker 2012). How science is developed and applied to policy-making is one major factor influencing “humanity’s environmental future” (Caldwell 1990). Yet, science is currently underutilized in environmental policy despite the growing call for effective scientific engagement in public policy (NSF 2002). How to effectively research and address these obstacles is a top priority in the twenty-first century. The research followed a three-phase approach. The first phase consisted of a meta-synthesis of existing literature of boundary organizations and boundary spanning to assess formal variables shaping the effectiveness of science-policy integration. Phase two involved an in-depth ethnographic inquiry of three water policy case studies in the state of Georgia. The ethnographic phase provided a deeper look into the informal social and political factors shaping environmental policy in the state. The third phase examined whether and how science was incorporated in each water case study and which factors influenced scientific trajectory. Results from the meta-synthesis suggest that successful science-policy linkages may be less about utilizing formal boundary organizations and spanning processes and more about fostering the process through which science and policy are intermingled. In addition, the focus of boundary organizations as the most effective means to span the science-policy boundary are questioned in the research. The ethnographic inquiry demonstrated how a handful of stakeholder groups structure water policy decisions in Georgia. Though formal institutions (e.g., Georgia Legislature and Georgia Department of Environmental Protection) provided a structure for interaction, the established systems of social and informal relationships within, among, and outside of various institutional capacities ultimately shaped each water policy case study in Georgia. The comparative assessment between formal and informal factors shaping the science-policy interface demonstrated the greater explanatory power of the critical policy lens, as illustrated by all that is missed through the analysis of formal features of the science-policy boundary. Future work should focus on how to address the politicization of science during science-policy integration efforts.