Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From Science to Impact

Most scientists, well at least senior scientists, need to report on progress to funders and policy makers reliant or interested on the outcome of their research.  Yesterday I was invited to attend such a meeting, not to report, but to listen and observe. Apart from really interesting presentations and ground-breaking research, the eternal struggle on how to clearly speak to policy and decision makers on matters of science was clearly evident.

I made a few notes:

  • Present in a nutshell the implications of research for policy
  • Explain what and why some modelling, calculations have been done. Guide policy makers through the logic. Do not baffle them with complicated statistics
  • Do not present all of the work you have done. Many times it will help much more to just say that your peers have endorsed you.
  • Focus on the impact of your work on people and society, not on scientific details
  • Always ask ‘So what?’
  • Do not speak about what you think is interesting, but speak about things that are important to decision making
  • Do not duplicate other work when you do not have to! Use existing data, analysis etc. and invest in connecting the dots.
  • Design and optimise modes of communication. Beware of death by ppt... (Despite the fact that everyone knows the term, my perception is that it is getting worse)
  • Be clear on the investment cost of projects/programme in relation to societal benefits. Do not emphasise costs only.
  • Generalise from specific studies in a responsible way. Neither jump to conclusions, nor be willing to take some risk. An educated expert opinion is still much better then an uneducated guess.

This is just a rough, personal account. There are many more excellent resources on how to improve the science-policy interface.   I recommend Prof Pielke's book The Honest Broker as a good place to start.

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