The most recent instalment of the IIASA Connect Coffee Talk series brought together the institute’s Communications Manager Ansa Heyl, the Head of Communications for the Scientific Advice Mechanism to the European Commission (SAPEA) Toby Wardman, and a participant in the North Africa Applied Systems Analysis Center (NAASAC) Mai Mostafa Awad to discuss their experiences in communicating science to inform policy.
Effective science communication ensures that policymakers can make informed decisions on behalf of their constituents. The conversation during the IIASA Connect Coffee Talk highlighted what makes a constructive policy brief and the challenge scientists might face when working with policymakers.
A policy brief is a relatively short publication that provides policymakers with research evidence relating to a policy issue. It usually contains an executive summary, analysis, and policy recommendations. Policy briefs are structured this way because policymakers often have limited time. Displaying information in a clear and concise manner helps them gain insights into a particular issue in an efficient way to help them make informed decisions.
Recommendations that stood out to me during the conversation included how important the language that is used is. Given that policymakers are the primary audience, it is vital to use sensible language. This means to avoid jargon, academic language, and politically charged words. If scientists were to use overly technical terms, non-specialist readers would be discouraged from engaging with them. Wardman emphasized that political sensibility is most important when writing policy briefs. Neutrality should be the goal when presenting information, and scientists should be mindful of their word choices and the impact they could have on the reader.
Influencing policy is a complex process, which means actionable recommendations are needed to stimulate results. This means being transparent about who the recommendation is for, what actions they should take, and what the timeframe is. It is also necessary to remember that for each actionable recommendation, scientists should include the unintended impact policies may have. Awad explained that to make fully informed decisions, policymakers should know who the winners and losers of each approach are and what they can do to mitigate the effect for the losers.
While policymakers are the main target of policy briefs, we should remember that they are not the only audience. Wardman, Heyl, and Awad pointed out that there are at least three audiences: the public, NGOs, and industry. The public constitutes the fabric of democracy. They elect policymakers, and to evaluate how they are doing, the public should know what advice is promoted to policymakers. For stakeholders in the industry sector, knowledge of policy recommendations is also crucial because their actions often have economic and political considerations.
For those involved in science communication, be it from a researcher, organizational, or policy perspective, there is continuous work in educating society on effective science communication. In an evolving research and political landscape, a concise and well-written brief could go a long way in driving societal progress.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the IIASA blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.