17 November 2018

Ensuring a better future through global cooperation

Options Winter 2018/19: Q&A with Heinz Faßmann, Minister for Education, Science, and Research of the Republic of Austria.

 © Martin Lusser| BMBWT

© Martin Lusser| BMBWT

Q: To what extent can scientists and organizations like IIASA contribute to ensuring that policies are informed by scientific evidence?

A: Scientific advice is needed for a growing number of policy areas and evidence-based policymaking is becoming increasingly important. Politicians should indeed make use of scientific knowledge when making decisions on complex issues like migration, but scientists also have a responsibility to translate their findings into practice so it can contribute to solving global challenges.

The Austrian Government uses different advisory structures ranging from experts to advisory bodies of Ministries or the Government to inform its decisions, so I am optimistic that we are on the right track to extend our capacities here. In terms of translating science to inform policy, IIASA is a true success story and an excellent role model. With its transdisciplinary and international approach, it is ideally positioned to provide policymakers with knowledge and concrete scenarios for solving global challenges. I am proud that Austria has been hosting IIASA for the last 45 years.

Q: How can we convince more countries to actively contribute to finding solutions to global problems like climate change and migration?

A: Solutions to global problems can only be found through international cooperation and dialogue, and there are a number of structures in place to foster and support this. The UN Sustainable Development Goals and its targets, for instance, provide a political framework for putting national science, technology, and innovation agendas into a global context. The EU research framework program “Horizon 2020”, provides an important cornerstone for funding international collaboration activities, and its successor program “Horizon Europe”, promises to put an even stronger focus on international collaboration. In addition, there are many bilateral cooperation activities and programs on all levels, ranging from personal contacts and institutional partnerships to large bilateral cooperation programs.

Keeping dialogue alive in difficult times is of course also crucial. This is called science diplomacy, which was the original purpose for IIASA’s establishment during the Cold War. Although the institute has since expanded its mission, its original role of diplomacy for science is still central to its charter.

Q: How can we ensure better cooperation and dialogue between science and policy?

A: As we know, generating reliable research results takes time. In times of crisis however, policymakers are expected to act within very short timeframes. These differing timelines sometimes make collaboration much more difficult. In addition, when policymakers are faced with complex problems and turn to researchers to help them find a solution, they expect clear answers. Yet, different research designs can offer different insights to the same topic depending on which academic discipline undertakes the project and which research questions are formulated. While this is what academics refer to as “expanding the body of knowledge”, it sometimes leaves policymakers guessing or allow some to choose evidence that supports their political agenda. 

Better cooperation and dialogue between science and policy can however be ensured by institutionalised settings like the Migration Commission or the Expert Council for Integration that provide a permanent platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge.

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Last edited: 06 November 2018

Options Winter 2018/19

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International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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