”There is a great need for the exchange of knowledge between research, politics and management”

2018.09.14

Baltic Eye’s work is analysed in a new international study

Responding to today's environmental challenges requires science to be integrated into politics and practice," says researcher Chris Cvitanovic, author of a new study on Baltic Eye's work to bridge the gap between science and policy.

Text: Henrik Hamrén

Making sure decision-makers have access to, and make use of, relevant scientific knowledge is critical. This is of extra importance when the decisions concern climate and the environment. However, the uptake and use of scientific knowledge into decision-making processes remains a massive challenge.

Concepts such as fake news, post-truth and filter bubbles have spurred an increasingly intensive discussion about the role of science in the formation of our societies. And the questions being asked in the wake of this discussion are many.

For example, how does one prevent that important science-based knowledge drowns in the media noise? How do we ensure that decision-makers have sufficient access to independent and correct facts? And how will society benefit from all the knowledge that research produces?

Marie Löf, environmental scientist and ecotoxicologist at the Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre

– There is a great need for the exchange of knowledge between research, politics and management, especially in regard to the major environmental challenges we face or already live with. This exchange does not take place to a sufficient extent, says Marie Löf, environmental scientist and ecotoxicologist at the Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre and co-author of the new study Building University-based boundary organisations that facilitate impacts on environmental policy and practice.

In the study, she and fellow researchers from Sweden, Australia and the UK look closer at Baltic Eye and ask the question: Is this kind of university-based boundary organisation a way forward to increase knowledge exchange between research, politics and management?

– Baltic Eye is an initiative that actively strives to increase the exchange of knowledge on Baltic Sea issues, with the aim of achieving evidence-based, sustainable management of the Baltic Sea, says Marie Löf.

Baltic Eye is the result of astrategic partnership between Stockholm University and the BalticSea2020 Foundation that was formed in 2013.

The group aims to analyse and synthesize relevant scientific knowledge about the Baltic Sea, and then convey the knowledge to relevant decision-making and policy processes.

– Baltic Eye has achieved more in three years than many similar groups achieve in five to ten years when it comes to policy impact, says Dr Chris Cvitanovic, researcher at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and lead author of the study.

Chris Cvitanovic, researcher at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

Baltic Eye has achieved more in three years than many similar groups achieve in five to ten years when it comes to policy impact

Dr Cvitanovic has worked for the Australian Government Department of Environment, and has been working at the interface of science and policy for many years.

– Baltic Eye’s structure, consisting of policy analysts, science communicators and researchers with different backgrounds, is unique. Particularly given the balanced composition with approximately as many communicators and analysts as researchers, he says.

In his research, Dr Cvitanovic sees growing international interest among research organisations to increase their ability to reach tangible impacts on both policy and practice, and to improve knowledge exchange between policy and science.

– In our study, we have started identifying the key functions needed to achieve this, he says.

The functions are linked to seven different themes: organisational, individual, financial, material, practical, political and social.

The study summarizes them in a roadmap for what university-based boundary organisations should consider (see picture below).

One of the most important lessons of the Baltic Eye example is the importance of formulating clear goals from the outset, according to Marie Löf,

– When Baltic Eye started, it was something completely new. There was not really any other organisation to compare with and be inspired by. Now we have made this trip and realized the importance of setting clear but dynamic goals that the entire group identifies together, she says.

It's about knowing, for example, when in a political process it's best to provide knowledge, to whom and how

The researchers conducted interviews with the Baltic Eye employees, and one event in the group's history stood out as particularly important; the recruitment of two policy experts.

– These persons provide a deep and qualified insight into the policy landscape. They know how decisions are made and how the political processes work in practice, at both national and EU level. As a result, Baltic Eye got the last important piece of the puzzle: the knowledge of how to communicate best with the target audience. It's about knowing, for example, when in a political process it's best to provide knowledge, to whom and how, says Marie Löf.

Marie Löf has participated as a researcher in Baltic Eye's work since the start, and she points out that the results in the study are specific to Baltic Eye.

– Nevertheless, we hope that our results also can provide valuable information to other organisations and institutions that want to do something similar. Especially since organisations of this kind are rarely evaluated, she says.

The study also identifies potential obstacles associated with the overall structure within academia.

– In the academic world, researchers are rewarded for the number of articles they publish in scientific journals, for example in employment. But researchers working in organisations such as Baltic Eye are required to spend a lot of their time on communication and collaboration, which may hamper their ability to publish as much in scientific journals, says Marie Löf.

Therefore, it is important that the academy also takes responsibility for researchers who choose to work within that kind of boundary organisations, she says.

– An example could be to review how to promote communicative efforts towards society.

At the same time, organisations such as Baltic Eye can serve as an alternative career path for researchers who do not primarily focus on a purely academic career, according to Marie Löf.

– Our study shows a number of positive effects on a personal level, where Baltic Eye employees state that this new way of working is perceived as stimulating and educational and that it has led to increased job satisfaction, she says.

The study of the Baltic Eye identifies important features of university-based boundary organisations that have impact on policy and practice.

Marie Löf

Ecotoxicologist
marie.lof@su.se

Chris Cvitanovic

Researcher