Scientists, innovators discuss incorporating scientific advice into policymaking

From the Jordan Times writer Dana Al Emam on the 1st Arab Leadership Dialogue on Science Advice to Government held in partnership with INGSA December 13-14 2016.
HRH Princess Sumaya with participants in the first Arab Leadership Dialogue on Science Advice to Governments at the Dead Sea on Tuesday (Photo courtesy of CRDF Global)

DEAD SEA — Incorporating evidence-based scientific advice into sustainable policymaking helps in better addressing local and regional challenges as well as leveraging growth and prosperity, scientists and experts agreed.

Around 30 key regional scientists, technology leaders and innovators from the region and a number of international experts met on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea for the first Arab Leadership Dialogue on Science Advice to Governments, to discuss means of enhancing the scientific community’s contributions to official decision making.

The two-day event, which concluded on Wednesday, was organised by the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) and the UN ESCWA Technology Centre, in partnership with the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) and CRDF Global. READ MORE

INGSA Wins SFSA Diplomacy Award

During the Science Forum South Africa 2016 closing session on December 9th South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Minister Naledi Pandor, awarded INGSA the Science Forum South Africa 2016 Science Diplomacy Award, in the category for an international STI partnership, which has made an outstanding contribution to harnessing scientific advice for multilateral decision-making.

Dr Heide Hackman, Executive Director of the International Council for Science and executive member INGSA, accepted the award on behalf of INGSA along with Dr Tolu Oni, steering committee member of INGSA-Africa. INGSA is honoured to receive this prestigious award and look forward to furthering our activity with a growing membership in the African region.

The Science Forum South Africa is a public science event, organised by the Department of Science and Technology to promote conversations about science in South Africa, Africa and globally.  The 2016 event took place in Pretoria on December 8th and 9th, and included a session on INGSA-Africa’s work in the region as well as a discussion on the draft principles and guidelines for science advice under development by INGSA for the World Science Forum.

Principles and Guidelines of Science Advice

INGSA hosted a Workshop on Principles & Guidelines for Government Scientific Advice held on September 28, 2016, ahead of its biennial summit. The workshop was facilitated by INGSA vice chair, Prof James Wilsdon and Prof Dan Sarewitz from Arizona State University. It included approximately 40 experts from 20 nations, with additional input from the Global Young Academy. Read the Global Young Academy’s workshop report on Broadening the scope of science advice: Engaging knowledge-creators beyond the academy. The charge to the workshop attendees originates from Article 4 of the Declaration on the Enabling Power of Science of the 2015 Budapest World Science Forum. “We call for concerted action of scientists and policy-makers to define and promulgate universal principles for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy based on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability. We call on all scientists to monitor and assess policy areas and provide, in a pro-active manner, independent and timely science advice even when its application is not guaranteed or not expected.” Wilsdon and Sarewitz reviewed important existing texts and distilled these into a set of draft principles and guidelines for discussion. The level and range of discussion in the room demonstrated not just the depth of engagement and interest in this issue, but also the significant challenge it is to work towards a universal set of principles and guidelines for robust evidence brokerage in multiple and complex contexts. This was the first in a series of consultative workshops planned over the next year for input into the draft principles, with the intention of reporting back to the World Science Forum in Jordan 2017.

Call for applications for South American INGSA workshop

With UNESCO and South American partners including the Ministry of Science and Technology Argentina and the Ministry for External Relations Chile, INGSA is designing a workshop for scientists and policy practitioners living or working in South America to enhance capacities in providing science advice for policymaking at all levels of government.

The workshop is being planned for Buenos Aires in the last week of June 2017. It will bring together 60 (emerging and established) scientists and policy practitioners and key stakeholders for a dialogue on models of science advice, and promising practices for working at the interface between science and policy, and will form a basis for a network of science advice stakeholders in South America.

Watch Twitter and our website for the call to applications opening.

Small Island Developing States – Pacific

In partnership with UNESCO, INGSA is planning a meeting in Apia, Samoa in late March with representatives from Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to assess the needs and options for bridging the gaps between science and policy-making in the Pacific SIDS, in the framework of the challenges of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This preliminary meeting will provide an opportunity for dialogue amongst the Pacific SIDS representatives and international organisations about the ways in which science advice mechanisms – both national and regional – could be put in place in the region.

Through the discussion of practices, participants will be able to explore the main aspects of science advice to policy making, and unpack the particular characteristics of the Pacific SIDS in this regard, with a view to developing an appropriate capacity building opportunity in the region.

The conclusions of this workshop also will be proposed as a discussion starter with other SIDS regions, in particular the Caribbean. The aim is to contribute to the elaboration of a broader approach to science advice in SIDS in general.

AAAS Boston

For those planning to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting, 16-20 February 2017 in Boston, USA, we encourage you to participate in the INGSA-led session on Scientific advice to governments: can we agree a set of global principles? Around the world, there are many different models for bringing scientific evidence and expertise into policymaking. Some governments appoint scientific advisors, others use expert committees, or draw on their national academies, most governments combine these and other modalities, depending on need and context. In respecting and valuing this diversity, can we also develop a set of universal principles for scientific advice? This session forms part of INGSA’s international consultation process on the Principles and Guidelines of Science Advice in response to the WSF declaration in Budapest 2015.

INGSA’s Francophone Africa Workshop in Dakar Sénégal

Professor Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec and member of INGSA, together with the President of the Académie Nationale des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal (ANSTS), represented by Professor Doudou Ba, are organizing a capacity building workshop for Francophone Africa. This workshop is modelled on the successful Anglophone African event, which was held in Hermanus South Africa under the leadership of INGSA and the Academy of Sciences of South Africa in February 2016. The workshop Enhancing capacities in providing science advice to governments will take place from March 5 to 7, 2017 in Dakar, Sénégal. It will bring together some forty established and emerging scientists from a variety of fields, as well as policy professionals. Discussions will be held in French on models of science advice and promising practices for working at the interface between science and policy. The participants will form the basis of a network of science advisors across Francophone Africa and the rest of the continent. Applications recently closed with 240 submissions received. This clearly demonstrates the high demand for strengthening capacities for providing science advice to African governments. A summary of the workshop will be available on the INGSA website.

Conference navigates gap between science and government

From Science writer Michaela Jarvis.  More than 600 professionals from the worlds of science and politics converged in Brussels late last month to mine internationally accumulated expertise on how best to connect scientific evidence with government decision-making. Infectious disease outbreaks, humanitarian crises, the use of genetically modified crops, climate change, and other pressing issues will all require the input of scientists, speakers said. Read more here

If the principles of responsibility, integrity, independence and accountability are the answer, then what was the question?

INGSA Guest Blog from Dr. Marc Saner I had the privilege to be the rapporteur at the Workshop on Principles & Guidelines for Government Scientific Advice held on September 28, 2016 and to report the results to the plenary of the 2nd INGSA Conference two days later.  The workshop was facilitated by James Wilsdon and Dan Sarewitz and included approximately 40 experts from 20 nations, with additional input from the Global Young Academy. I offer here observations from the rapporteur's vantage point.   (1) The charge to the workshop attendees originates from Article 4 of the Declaration on the Enabling Power of Science of the 2015 Budapest World Science Forum.  In this declaration, two points need to be noticed.  First, scientific advice is cast as a means to achieve results on three global ends: reach sustainable development goals, address climate change, and reduce our vulnerability to disasters. Second, and ironically, the request for advice on universal science advice principles contains its own answer (emphasized in the quote below): “We call for concerted action of scientists and policy-makers to define and promulgate universal principles for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy based on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability. We call on all scientists to monitor and assess policy areas and provide, in a pro-active manner, independent and timely science advice even when its application is not guaranteed or not expected.”   (2) If these four highlighted principles are at least part of the answer, then what exactly was the question?  I believe that everyone in the scientific advice business will agree that a clear question really helps in formulating a helpful answer.  One of the first interventions at the workshop (by Frans Brom) raised this issue.  Another early intervention (by Sir Peter Gluckman) emphasized that we must consider a multitude of contexts for scientific advice.  The Global Young Academy also chose to focus its contribution on the topic of diversity, including the diversity of knowledge and the diversity of audiences. An incomplete list of these contexts, as were raised at the workshop and the conference could be captured and bracketed as follows:
  • Emergency <> Non-emergency
  • Informal or ad hoc <> Formal or systematic
  • Individuals <> Committees
  • Commissioned <> Non-commissioned
  • Expert-centered <> Public deliberative
  • Formal science <> Traditional knowledge
  • Local <> International
  • Developing countries <> Developed countries
  • Regulatory assessments <> Policy development <> Political decision-making
This diversity may well be needed to make headway on the goals of the Budapest Declaration— using science to save the planet is indeed a formidable challenge.  The diversity does not simplify the quest for universal principles, however.  All the more reason to look for clarity about the question at hand.  When reviewing the Budapest Declaration and after listening to the workshop and conference, I found that all of the following six questions are valid interpretations of the charge (the word “it”, below, refers to “scientific advice”):
  1. How to do it? – this calls for a formula or a system of principles, standards, or guidelines.
  2. How to teach it? – this calls for a curriculum or a table of contents of a longer text.
  3. How to evaluate it? – this calls for compliance thinking such as indicators of accountability, return-on-investment, or success.
  4. What to aspire to? – values-based codes are commonly use to engender debate and define leadership styles.
  5. What matters most? – lessons-learned can be condensed into a “top ten” list (or a similar idea)
  6. Which new direction? – there is a sense in the Budapest Declaration that there is real room for improvement. A manifesto could highlight key components of directional change.
Some of these questions are closely related and I, thus, do not believe it necessary to select a single question.  However, we do need to select a small number of related questions. Attempts to satisfy all six interpretations at the same time are not likely to succeed. For example, compliance codes are hard to combine with aspirational codes. A traditional cookbook and an avant-garde manifesto are two different things.   (3) What is the right length and format? The nature of the question has, of course, a big impact on the length and format of the answer. Nevertheless, we know a priori that people are not all that good at remembering more than 3-5 items.  As a result, a shorter number of principles can become a slogan while a larger number leads to a checklist that can be expanded into an entire textbook or guide.  A case in point: a card distributed at the conference shows three key aspirations of Scientific Committees of the European Commission in the format of a slogan: “Excellence, Independence, Transparency.” The Budapest Declaration, however, is over 2500 words. At the workshop, we worked on both principles and guidelines.  The duality increases the elbow room to include all of the important points but also introduces some confusion over what belongs in the explanation of a principle and how to render the guidelines fully commensurate with the principles. The choice of length and format, thus, deserves some real attention. Once an idea for length and format is chosen, it sets the debate into a direction that is hard to reverse.   (4) What is the right balance? Sustainable development is often thought of in terms of triple bottom-line accounting: social, natural, and produced capital, or people, planet, and profit. Considering and balancing all three should help us reach the Sustainable Development Goals and it has been helpful to have this slogan that reminds of the equal status of the non-profit motives. The work on principles can benefit from an analogous slogan.  Principles are arguably in the domain of ethics. Just about every ethics textbook will contain (usually in complex language) the following three components of good decisions: people, process and performance (virtue and care, means and duties, ends and utility).  It’s remarkable to me that the slogan of the Scientific Committees of the European Commission hits these three notes.  “Independence” refers to a people (although “impartiality” would be a better choice here), “transparency” is an important component of process, and “excellence” relates to performance.  I would argue that the text INGSA will produce should strike such a balance too, no matter if the text turns out to be a short set of principles, a longer guide, a list of lessons learned, or a manifesto.   (5) What's next?  James Wilsdon and Dan Sarewitz used a straightforward methodology to develop draft principles for discussion. They reviewed important existing texts and distilled the information into a set of principles and guidelines. After the workshop and the conference, I believe the time is now ripe to make a strategic selection of the exact questions INGSA wants to focus on.  In an e-mail exchange with Dan Sarewitz, he expressed a particular interest in Questions 4-6 (aspirations, lessons learned and the new direction).  I agree with this choice and would like to see the next step focus on these three.  But this may be a matter for a larger debate. It may be even meaningful (if practical), to consult the authors of the Budapest Declaration.  After all, a principle of good advice is to have a keen interest in the needs, wants, culture, and language of the audience, and to also project the use and possible misuse of the answer one will ultimately provide.   Dr. Marc Saner is Associate Professor at the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics and was the Inaugural Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, both at the University of Ottawa.  

A theory of principles for science advisors

Guest blog from Dr Heather Douglas

On Wednesday Sept. 28, science advisors and scholars of science advice met to address the challenges of articulating principles for science advice, principles that would be applicable across institutional contexts and political cultures.  The World Science Forum at Budapest in November 2015 framed the challenge in a “call for concerted action of scientists and policy-makers to define and promulgate universal principles for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy based on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability.” (World Science Forum 2015)  As the declaration from the forum noted, “the independence, transparency, visibility and accountability of those who receive and provide advice has never been more important.”  (ibid.)

What is needed is not just an articulation of what these concepts should entail in the practice of science advice, but also how these requisite goals fit together.  Ideally, our understanding of these aspects of science advice should cohere together as much as possible, illuminating each other.

In thinking about this challenge, I have come to see the core principles for science advisors are integrity, responsibility, and accountability.  In defining and describing these three principles, we will then be able to articulate what we should mean by independence (from what?) and transparency (for what to whom?), and ultimately, legitimacy.  Let me first describe the three core principles and then I will describe how they inform the others.

Scientific integrity is most helpfully defined as a proper respect for inquiry.  Having a proper respect for inquiry requires having an open mindedness about the outcomes of inquiry (forestalling commitments to predetermined results), allowing inquiry to proceed to the best of one’s expert judgment given the practical constraints with which one is operating (not directing it to a particular end), and ensuring that social and ethical values play only legitimate roles in the process of inquiry.  Respecting inquiry requires understanding that we should not be sure of the end results of an inquiry until that process is complete.

It would be ideal if all parties in the science advising process exhibited integrity in this way, including both the advisor and the advisee.  Having such a respect for inquiry helps ground shared trust, especially in the face of uncertain scientific outcomes.

Proper roles for social and ethical values include the direction of attention to matters of social and ethical concern, ethical restrictions on use of data and ethical subjects, and the use of values to determine evidential sufficiency, through the weighing of consequences of error.  Values should not supplant or stand in place of evidence.

Science advisors should also be aware of how values influence their reasoning and be clear with their advisees on the nature of that influence.

Accountability and responsibility are distinct but overlapping core principles.  Accountability concerns what science advisors are held accountable to and by whom they are held accountable.  Accountability involves identifiable mechanisms for holding a person to account.  Responsibility, on the other hand, concerns what an advisor is responsible for and whom they are responsible  to, even if there are no accountability mechanisms in place.  The difference between accountability and responsibility parallels the difference between legality and morality.  While there should be substantial overlap between these two domains, they are not equivalent.  One can be responsible for things for which one will not be held accountable, and one can be held accountable for things for which one is not ultimately responsible.  The lack of equivalence is important for proper functioning of institutions and defining roles within them.

Science advisors have a range of responsibilities.  First and foremost, science advisors are responsible for giving scientifically accurate advice. They also have a responsibility to explain their expert judgment regarding the available scientific evidence, to explain in their advice which evidence they found salient, and how it was assessed.  In addition, it may help in some cases to explain accounts of the evidence which were rejected (and why), and evidence that was set aside as irrelevant or inadequate (and why), particularly where there is a public dispute that references such evidence. Science advisors also have a responsibility to understand how values (including important social and ethical values) shape the definition of problems in advice and assessments of the sufficiency of evidence.  Such value-laden judgments are an essential part of science advice (there can be no value-free advice) and how values have played a role in the generation of advice should be made clear to the advisee (whether that is a policy-maker, a stakeholder, or the general public) (as noted in the discussion of integrity).  Finally, science advisors have a responsibility to be responsive to societal concerns where science advice is salient and potentially helpful.

These responsibilities are to complex sets of groups. Science advisors are responsible for  accuracy,  for the explication of value judgments, and  for responsiveness,  to their advisees,  to the expert community (which expects accurate representation of expertise), and to the public.  All three general groups need science advisors to perform these responsibilities to the best of their ability and depend on such performance in the use of science advice.

But these groups cannot all hold science advisors accountable for meeting these responsibilities.  The general public has no accountability levers directly to science advisors.  Instead, others have the capacity to hold science advisors accountable.  For example, it is the expert community (which will shift in composition depending on the topic of the advice) that can and should hold the advisor accountable for the accuracy of their advice, and should also hold science advisors accountable for the explication of value judgments (often only other experts can tell whether a particular judgment given a particular value commitment is reasonable).  Expert communities can and should call each other out for failing to meet these responsibilities.  When called out, the advisee should assess the advisor and decide whether further accountability measures (such as the loss of position) is warranted.

Finally, science advisors are accountable to their advisees for giving clear and understandable advice, and for explaining their expert judgments to their advisee.   They are also accountable to their advisees for being as clear as possible about the values that shape their advice, so that their advisees can properly interpret their advice.

Different modes of science advice will thus have different mechanisms in practice for accountability.  Accountability mechanisms for science advisors who work for particular advisees are more precise and exacting than mechanisms for science advisors who work through independent advisory committees, for example.  Despite the importance of both responsibility and accountability, it should never be the expectation or demand that a science advisor violate their integrity in order to meet a responsibility.  Rather, defending and exemplifying one’s integrity is a central responsibility for science advisors.

With these three, integrity, responsibility, and accountability, articulated, clearer accounts of independence, transparency, and legitimacy are possible.

Independence:  The key question for independence is independence from what?  Not every political influence on science advice is illegitimate—political concerns properly frame advising questions, social values shape evidential sufficiency assessments, and relevance concerns are often political.  Further, it is legitimate for social and ethical values to shape which research is done, and whether a research method or agenda is morally acceptable.  In addition, many science advisors find they are most effective if they are embedded in governance processes officially, rather than independent from them.  Issues of responsibility and accountability show that complete independence would be undesirable—we want responsive, responsible, and accountable science advisory systems.

However, we don’t want illegimate political interference.  Examples of such illegitimate interference includes practices that attempt to get a predetermined outcome from a science advisory process, e.g., through expert selection, problem definition, or dictating or altering results.  Such practices would clearly violate the core integrity principle.  Thus, independence is generally desirable to the extent that it is needed to protect integrity.  Dependencies that generate or encourage violations of integrity are the problem that needs to be avoided.

Transparency:  The central questions for transparency are what science advisors need to be transparent about and to whom.  The discussion of responsibility and accountability described above illuminates these questions, and will depend on the nature of the science advising mechanism.

Minimally, science advisors need to be transparent to their advisees.  Indeed, without such transparency, it is unclear what the use of science advice is.  In some science advising contexts, advice (and how it was generated) should be transparent to 1) the expert community, 2) relevant stakeholders, and/or 3) the general public.  What should be made transparent is minimally the expert judgment made (described above in responsibility).  Additionally, depending on the mechanism, the evidential basis should also be made transparent (or at least available).  Finally, in some advising systems, evidence or arguments found lacking should also be made transparent.

Transparency is crucial for accountability mechanisms, and the key issue is that as much transparency as is needed for accountability should be required.

Legitimacy:  (diversity, representation, accountability, responsibility, integrity, independence, process)

With this layered account of the principles of science advice, we can see where legitimacy comes from.  It comes from the core integrity of science advisors, their responsibility and accountability to their expert community and to their advisees, and is made manifest through the transparency of their work.

Depending on the nature of the science advising mechanism, legitimacy can be further bolstered by careful adherence to process (which demands responsibility, integrity, and transparency) and diversity in the participation in the process.  Diversity can be understood as both diversity of expertise/scientific background and diversity of social background (especially where social values are particularly salient and diverse).  Legitimacy arises from a complex set of factors which cannot be reduced to the evidential basis alone.

Thus, the structure of science advising mechanisms is of paramount importance.  While principles, such as integrity, responsibility, accountability, independence, and transparency can be articulated generally, often their specific instantiations depend on the particular science advising mechanism to which they are applied.  Fleshing out how the principles might work in different mechanisms and institutional contexts is the work of detailed guidelines that follow from principles.

Despite the importance of the institutional and contextual details, we still can have a coherent set of principles which capture concerns and provide insight for a range of science advising challenges. We don’t have to try to balance apparent tensions between accountability and independence, for example.  By carefully articulating what we should mean by these ideas in the practice of science advice, we can see how they work together in making science advice trustworthy.

Dr Heather Douglas is Associate Professor (Waterloo Chair in Science and Society) at the University of Waterloo

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