The Importance of the Science-Policy Interface Concept for Regional Development Agencies in Turkey
Istanbul Technical University – Graduate of the Science, Technology, and Society Master’s Program
In recent years, the scientific knowledge-based policymaking has gained importance worldwide, especially for complex issues such as climate change or public health. The inclusion of scientific knowledge in the policymaking process requires a robust and sustainable relationship between scientific knowledge producers and policymakers. In this article, this relationship is conceptualized as “the science-policy interface”. The main claim is that introducing, discussing, and developing the concept of “the science-policy interface” would be useful for the regional development agencies in Turkey to enhance their relations with knowledge producers.
In very general terms, the term science-policy interface refers to social processes between scientists and politicians regarding the exchange and production of knowledge to improve decision-making (Van den Hove, 2007). In this sense, any interaction between the world of science and the world of politics can be considered an interface. That is, science consultancy, science committees, joint conferences and workshops, or the transfer of scientific articles to politicians, are all science-policy interfaces. However, the current literature frequently emphasizes that collaborative approaches in producing knowledge, policy, and action lead to more effective results (Wall et al., 2017). The basis of these co-production based science-policy interfaces is the cooperation of different stakeholders from the design of the activities to their implementation through ongoing interaction. In such interfaces, stakeholders can share their knowledge, experiences, motivations, opportunities, resources, potentials, strengths, and weaknesses with each other. Therefore, policy-related scientific knowledge might be combined with social, cultural, and economic conditions to produce usable, acceptable, and practical knowledge and action.
As mentioned above, uncovering and discussing the science-policy interface concept can be particularly useful for development agencies. There are two inter-related reasons for this. The first is, due to their establishment reasons and missions, development agencies carry out their activities based on evidence. Accordingly, they always need scientific knowledge. The second is, during these activities, they often collaborate with knowledge producers. The universities, research centers, and technoparks in their regions are some examples of the knowledge producers. Nevertheless, the agencies also cooperate with knowledge producers outside of their regions. For instance, Izmir Development Agency worked with the Technology Development Foundation of Turkey to prepare “Izmir Eco-efficiency Strategy” and conduct “Izmir Eco-efficiency (Clean Production) Program”. Moreover, the agencies have the capacity to build a bridge between the local scale and the national/ international scale. Indeed, Izmir Development Agency collaborated with the World Bank in the project “Key Agricultural Product Risk Assessment (KAPRA) for the Kucuk Menderes River Basin”. In other words, development agencies establish cross-scale science-policy interfaces while turning international and national knowledge into regional and local action. Thus, being aware of the theoretical and practical dimensions of these interfaces would improve the agencies’ relations with knowledge producers and make their knowledge-based activities more effective.
Ideally, both scientists and politicians acknowledge that cooperation is necessary and indispensable. But, in real life, they encounter some problems as soon as they want to work together. These problems, here referred to as barriers, negatively affect the establishment and effectiveness of science-policy interfaces. Revealing and examining the barriers may be beneficial to work towards possible solutions. For this purpose, some examples of these barriers are given below.
- Perspective differences: Scientists and policymakers are members of two different epistemic communities that are based on different norms and criteria, have different goals, and approach concepts, ideas, and situations from different angles (Edelenbos et al., 2011; Van Stigt et al., 2015). The conflicts between the two groups may make their cooperation difficult.
- Scientific uncertainties: Scientific studies always contain some uncertainty, especially on issues that are affected by too many factors. The uncertainty of the findings and projections may result in that scientific knowledge is not taken seriously in the policymaking process.
- Bounded rationality: Science mainly provides knowledge for rational decision-making processes. However, decision-making is inherently political and does not always act with rationality. Because of “the bounded rationality”, scientific knowledge may be manipulated or completely ignored in the world of politics.
- The criteria of academic success and the perception of academic reputation: The academy measures success with traditional criteria such as publishing scientific articles, developing academic projects, and participating in conferences. Although these activities are essential, scholars sometimes refrain from collaborating with non-academic stakeholders by making academic activities their main, and even only, focus. Furthermore, some scholars believe that non-academic activities would harm their academic reputation.
- Insufficient time: The above barriers are essentially theoretical problems. However, practical issues also affect the establishment or effective operation of science-policy interfaces. For example, both groups might be very busy with their own duties and responsibilities and have difficulties in creating extra time for collaboration.
- Financial management problems: Another practical problem is financial problems. Knowledge producers working in science-policy interfaces should receive a payment in return for their efforts, knowledge, and time. Yet, there may be disputes between legal regulations on financing between the institutions of knowledge producers and policymakers.
- The scale factor: “The scale factor” is particularly important for regional development agencies. According to the scale factor, on the one hand, if the responsible area of development agencies is very small and there are not enough stakeholders, it becomes difficult to find relevant stakeholders and establish science-policy interfaces. On the other hand, if the scale is too large and there are too many stakeholders, it becomes challenging to analyze all relevant stakeholders and find the most suitable one. The regions that both have sufficient stakeholders and are not enormous can be regarded as an ideal scale and facilitate the establishment and sustainability of science-policy interfaces (Eroğlu, 2020).
As stated above, identifying and being aware of barriers should not be seen as discouraging, but as the first step towards overcoming them. In the relevant literature, there are many recommendations to strengthen the relationship between the world of science and the world of policy. Perhaps the most important of these are individuals and organizations, often called knowledge brokers (Hering, 2016) or boundary organizations (Guston, 1999), working at the intersection of the two groups to improve communication. For instance, since it prepares policy advice reports based on climate science findings, IPCC is often referred to as a boundary organization.
Nonetheless, development agencies have an advantage at this point. They have many experts who have previously received or are currently pursuing a graduate degree. Agency experts’ familiarity with the academy minimizes some of the barriers described above, such as the problems caused by perspective differences or scientific uncertainties. Agencies can interact directly with knowledge producers through their staff without the need for an intermediary. What the agencies need to do is to encourage interaction between different stakeholders and create suitable environments for collaborations.
Many of today’s problems, particularly climate change, are so complex and multidimensional that no single actor can deal with alone. Developing effective, sustainable, and holistic policies requires the collaborations of various groups, such as decisionmakers, knowledge producers, non-governmental organizations, and local people. It is more effective and preferable if these collaborations are horizontal in a multilevel governance framework rather than vertical in a rigid hierarchy. For knowledge producers and scientific knowledge to become an active part of this stakeholder network and governance, the science-policy interfaces provide both a theoretical framework and practical benefits. Through these interfaces, the ways of turning scientific knowledge into policies, by also considering political, economic, social, and cultural conditions, can be explored.
- Edelenbos, J., Van Buuren, A. & Van Schie, N. (2011) “Co-Producing Knowledge: Joint Knowledge Production Between Experts, Bureaucrats and Stakeholders in Dutch Water Management Projects”. Environmental Science & Policy, 14(6), 675-684.
- Eroğlu, M. (2020) “A study of the science-policy interfaces in climate change policymaking: Izmir and Istanbul Development Agencies” (Unpublished master’s thesis). Available from Council of Higher Education (CoHE) Thesis Center Database. (Thesis No. 634723)
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- The Scientist, November 30, 2013
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- Van Stigt, R., Driessen, P. P. & Spit, T. J. (2015) “A User Perspective on the Gap Between Science and Decision-Making. Local Administrators’ Views on Expert Knowledge in Urban Planning”. Environmental Science & Policy, 47, 167-176.
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