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GeoPolicy: What are European Commission Consultations and how can scientists contribute?

GeoPolicy: What are European Commission Consultations and how can scientists contribute?

The European Commission requires both expert advice and an understanding of public opinion to steer policy and draft new EU legislation proposals that will be introduced to both the Council and the EU Parliament to debate.

The EU Commission regularly hosts hearings, workshops, expert groups and consultations to gain valuable insights, prompt discussion and help draft policy.  These forums may be restricted to certain groups or open to everyone. Participants within these forums not only include scientific experts who can provide well researched advice and potential solutions, but also the general public who can deliver an insight into the views of EU citizens, mobilize societal support for policy plans and legitimise the policy proposal process.

This week’s blog is going to specifically focus on the European Commission’s Consultations. Consultations are often the beginning of the EU legislation process and allow all interested stakeholders (both individuals and organisations) to provide expertise or submit their opinion on a particular topic or policy process via an online questionnaire.

New Consultations are published frequently and are usually open for three months with topics ranging from taxation to Europe’s space strategy. Each Consultation questionnaire is published alongside background documents which provide the responder with as much information about the issue as feasible.

Why contribute to EU Consultations?

Consultations are one of the easiest and quickest methods of sharing your research and expertise with the EU Commission and to contribute to the EU policymaking process!

Contributions can be submitted in any EU language, are open to everyone and respondents are generally able to skip questions that they do not feel they are comfortable with or able to answer.

Keeping up with and contributing to Consultations relevant to your work could increase your ability to understand the policy relevance of your research. This may be valuable when talking with policy-sector personnel or when explaining the relevance of your research in grant or funding proposals. It may also inspire you to discover other aspects of your research you may not have thought to explore otherwise.

The individual responses to Consultations are often posted online. However, contributors can elect to complete the questionnaire anonymously and have their personal information omitted from the final report.

Publicly contributing to an EU Consultation allows others working in a similar area to view your response and gain a better understanding of your competence and interest in the topic. Likewise, you are also able to view the responses of others who have publicly contributed. This could open up new networks, giving you more opportunities to engage with others who have a similar focus.

While it may seem difficult, if not impossible, to share your expertise through a 20-minute online questionnaire, most of the Consultations provide you with the opportunity to upload supporting documents. This allows those evaluating the responses to reflect on specific aspects of your research.

How to contribute to EU Commission Consultations

The EU Commission’s Consultation process is straight-forward and user-friendly – at least as far as EU procedures go! The toughest part is finding a relevant Consultation to respond to. Do try to find a Consultation that is aligned with your area of expertise but don’t be deterred if there isn’t a Consultation matching the exact title of your latest research.

If you would like to share your research but cannot find an EU Commission Consultation relevant to your area of expertise, you can view the list of upcoming Consultation topics or subscribe to the Your Voice in Europe mailing list which will alert you to new Consultations as well as recently-published Roadmaps.

Alternatively, you can sign up for the EGU’s Database of Expertise which sends information regarding relevant EU initiatives and potential science-policy opportunities to its members.

Be prepared to do some additional homework! Questions within a particular Consultation may refer to a legislation, initiative or action plan (see the example below). It’s important that you know, or at least have an idea, about what the question is referring to as it will enable you to answer the Consultation question fully.

 

Example of questions from the ‘Public consultation on the implementation of the Atlantic action plan’ Consultation

 

Remember that it’s a learning process. It is often challenging to relate your area of expertise to policy themes and answer questions on complicated topics in less than 1000 characters. But the more familiar you get with the process the easier it will become!

Sources / Additional reading

[1] – The European Commission’s use of consultation during policy formulation: The effects of policy characteristics

[2] – Evaluating pluralism: diversity of interest groups’ policy demands and preference attainment in the European Commission’s open Consultations. evidence from the EU Environmental Policy

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk: Meet the EGU’s President, Jonathan Bamber

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Jonathan Bamber, the EGU’s President. Jonathan has a long-standing involvement with the Union, stretching back almost 20 years. Following a year as vice-president, Jonathan was appointed President at this year’s General Assembly in Vienna. Here we talk to him about his plans for the Union, how scientists can stand up for science at a time when it is coming under attack and how the Union plans to foster the involvement of early career scientists (ECS) in its activities.

In the unlikely event that some of our readers don’t know who you are, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your career path so far and also about your involvement with the EGU over the years?

I started out with a degree in Physics. I’ve spent the last 20 years in the geography department at the University of Bristol focusing on Earth Observation. In that time, I’ve covered a lot of topics: from oceanography to land surface processes, but glaciology is my core discipline and research area. Most of my work has broadly been in the area of climate change and climate research but also solid Earth geophysics.

I’ve been involved with EGU (actually, it was EGS then) since the late 90s. I used to attend the meetings and I realised there was a gap in the market for cryospheric sciences. I approached Arne Richter [the former General Secretary of EGS] to form the Division of Cryospheric Sciences. I put together a proposal and became secretary of the division at the time and later became president of the division when EUG & EGS merged to form EGU. I spent five years in that role, towards the end of which I proposed (and launched) the open access journal The Cryosphere, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and publishes about 220 papers per year.  I’m very proud of those contributions to the community and feel that they have helped develop the discipline and strengthen it.

It was 2007 when I stepped down from the EGU Council all together although I still attended the General Assembly, of course, and convened various sessions. It was 2015 when the then EGU vice-president, Hans Thybo, suggested I stand in the next presidential elections. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to take on the role, but decided to go for it because I think it is important to serve the scientific community and colleagues and EGU is an organisation that is close to my heart.

At this year’s General Assembly, you were appointed Union President (after serving as Vice-President for a year). What are the main things you hope to achieve during your two-year term?

There are two main areas that I am very keen to promote and foster:

First, I want to make the organisation [the EGU] more attractive to early career scientists (ECS) and offer them more opportunities, be that more and better short courses, career support and other benefits of attending. For some years now there has been a strong ECS network within the Union and there have been great advances in that direction already.

Second, I’d like to increase the EGU’s opportunities, and those of members, to be involved in policy activities.

Why those two in particular?

There are many things one could do; but having attended the General Assembly for 15 years, there is no doubt that ECS are the future of the discipline, so if we don’t make the meeting attractive and useful for them, what are we here for?

In terms of policy, there are a number of events which have happened in the past few years which make it come into focus.

Certainly, in the UK, it is important that the science we do has impact, and just as important is that we [researchers] understand what the impact of the research we do has. Ultimately, tax payers pay for the research we do, so it is important not to get detached from the role we have in benefiting society in broad terms but also through specific opportunities and activities.

From many years attending the AGU Fall Meeting, I am aware the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has a very well developed and successful policy related programme. It is, of course, simpler for them, as the policy landscape is restricted to one nation and AGU’s headquarters are in Washington. Nonetheless, despite those differences, EGU is not, currently, providing opportunities for engagement in the policy realm in the way we could, for example, with the European Commission and its funding instruments.

Science for policy is not suited to all scientists, and all disciplines that we represent. However, it is important for a large cohort of our membership.

EGU President, Jonathan Bamber (centre left) and EGU Vice-President, Hans Thybo (centre right), stand along side the 2016 EGU Outstanding Student Poster and PICO (OSPP) awardees. Credit: EGU/Pflugel

ECS make up a significant proportion of the Union’s membership. EGU is a bottom up organisation and there is no doubt that ECS have a say in many matters of the Union already, but how do you plan on including ECS further in decision-making processes in the future?

I wouldn’t necessarily classify ECS separately. They are simply geoscientists, just like the majority of our members. It is important, however, for us to show them and highlight the opportunities available for them to be involved in the General Assembly and the Union as a whole.

We have a Union-wide ECS Representative on Council – this gives ECS a good understanding of how the organisation works and gives the individual experience of the machinery involved in running all the activities of EGU. Roles like this give the next generation skills to take on leadership roles in the future too. How do they know how organisations operate if they don’t have opportunities like this?

There are also no barriers to them being involved in convening sessions, organising short courses and proposing activities for the Union to prepare.

It can be intimidating as a junior scientist to be involved in these activities, so it’s important that we make it accessible to them. I think we are making great progress in this direction.

As an established scientist, what advice would you give ECS starting out in their career?

Accountancy pays very well!

More seriously: get involved!

Also, look at your most successful and respected senior colleagues and identify what about them makes them successful and what do you admire in them. Positive role models are very important.

Recently, the scientific process has come under attack. Initiatives such as the March For Science have given scientists opportunities to make their voices heard. What role can the Union play in supporting members wanting to stand up for science?

We can put together advice for how scientists can get their voice heard. The Union’s Outreach Committee is quite active in this regard already.

Trying to make sure that the voice of the geoscience community is heard within Europe is another area where we can contribute. We’ve been involved in an EU Parliamentary meeting, representing EGU, where discussions focused on improving the integration of science and collaboration across Europe.

We also offer policy makers and institutions the opportunities to contact scientists, through our database of experts.  We need to make European policy-makers more aware that we can provide that service.

In terms of funding for scientific research, we’ve established links with the President of European Research Council. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon gave a talk at this year’s General Assembly and participated in one of our Great Debates. We also hosted a meeting where senior members of the EGU’s council met with Bourguignon to discuss how the EGU could support the ERC in the future.

As an organisation, it should be our goal to provide our members with a mechanism by which they can communicate with the European Commission and policy-makers.

Last month, the EGU issued a statement condemning President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Why is this decision so troubling and, in your opinion, what can Union members do to raise awareness of the challenges facing the globe?

We should communicate the importance of our science: what we know, what we understand, the evidence based facts.

In the absence of evidence based science, how do policy makers reach decisions? They rely on gut instinct, on beliefs, on prejudices… But they should be making them on evidence based science. So, it is crucial that we communicate what we know to the public and policy-makers.

In Europe, a large majority don’t question human influence on climate. They understand it is real and that it’s an issue of upmost importance.

Trump’s decision was about politics not science; it is important to remember that. He didn’t deny that climate change was real, but he was making the decision on an economic basis and that is something else again. Whether it was a wise economic decision or an entirely myopic one is another question altogether.  I speak about this in more detail in an open editorial I wrote shortly after the decision was announced.

Geoscientists are, perhaps, more important in terms of policy and the health of the planet than they ever have been before. All the work we are doing in the geosciences has huge implications for policy and for safeguarding our future on the planet.

Jonathan, thank you for talking to me today about a whole range of topics. I’d like to finish this interview by bringing the conversation back around to EGU. We’ve discussed, at some length, what the Union hopes to do for its members and highlighted that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. So, how exactly do they go about taking a more active role in the Union’s activities?

One of the easiest ways to have your voice heard is by getting involved through your scientific division. Attend your division(s)’s business meeting. Each division has quite a few officers: a secretary, vice-president, secretaries for sub disciplines and so on. There are lots of opportunities there. In general, anyone who wants to put the time in will be welcomed by division presidents because it’s always good to have enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers.

When it comes to the General Assembly in Vienna, anybody can propose a session. If you want to organise a session or a short course, just fire it out there! The call-for-sessions is currently open [until 8th September]. You’ll find all the details online.

If you are interested in policy-related activities do complete the register of experts questionnaire.  It doesn’t take long and you’ll find details on our webpages. Make sure you provide as much detail about your expertise as possible. That way we’ll be able to match you up with those who make inquires and opportunities in the most effective way.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal (EGU Communications Officer)

 

 

 

 

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

As a geoscientist, I’m sure that you have heard of Horizon 2020, an EU programme that is allocating almost €80 billion to research and innovation over 7 years (from 2014 to 2020). This money is distributed throughout various scientific divisions and provides a plethora of opportunities for scientists, not only within the EU but also throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in all the potential opportunities and openings offered to scientists, research institutes and innovators being difficult to navigate.

Luckily for you, this blog will outline some of the most relevant Horizon 2020 geoscience opportunities so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to map out the many existing options!

Horizon 2020: a summary

The Horizon 2020 programme follows the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), which ran from 2007 until 2013 with a budget of just over €50 billion. Research framework programmes were initially established by the EU to coordinate national research, pool research funding, increase knowledge sharing and reduce duplication.

Horizon 2020 aims to generate world-class science and technology to drive economic growth within the EU and be bigger, simpler and smarter than previous programmes. It consists of three primary research and innovation pillars:

In addition to these three pillars, there are two horizontal and three smaller programmes. These pillars and programmes are depicted in the figure below.

 

Horizon 2020 Structure. Credit: http://cerneu.web.cern.ch/horizon2020/structure

 

Each pillar and programme offers funding and opportunities that you may be able to access depending on the focus of your research. This blog will focus on Excellent Science as this is believed to be the most relevant pillar to the geoscience community.

Excellent Science

As you can see in the figure above, the Excellent Science Pillar has four primary components, all of which offer opportunities to researchers.

  1. European Research Council’s frontier research encourages high-risk, high-reward proposals in an attempt to generate revolutionary science and innovation by providing a number of different grants, including:

 

    • ERC Starting Grants: support talented early-career scientists (with 2 – 7 years of experience) who have already shown potential as a research leader
    • ERC Consolidator grants: fund researchers with 7 – 12 years of experience who would like to consolidate their independence or who would like to strengthen a recently established, independent research team
    • ERC Advanced Grants: empower individual researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders
    • Proof of Concept Grants: are secondary sources of funding for researchers who have already received an ERC grant for the frontier research project and now want to explore the commercial or societal potential of their work

2. Future and emerging technologies supports the following collaborative research initiatives that aim to extend Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation:

    • FET Open: funds projects that focus on new technologies and that are in the early stages of development
    • FET Proactive: seeks to establish a critical mass of European researchers on emerging, exploratory themes and ultimately build-up a new interdisciplinary research community
    • FET Flagships: fund 10-year initiatives that involve hundreds of European researchers who focus on solving an ambitious scientific and technological challenge e.g. developing uses for new materials such as Graphene

3. Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships provide innovative research training, attractive career options and knowledge-exchange opportunities to scientists across all disciplines. Key opportunities within this fellowship that may appeal to geoscientists include:

    • Innovative Training Networks (ITN): provide up to four years of funding for a joint doctoral-level research training programme that is implemented by at least three partners from in and outside academia
    • European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT): is a Europe-wide public event dedicated to the sharing of science and engaging the public. The next NIGHT will take place on the 29thof December 2017 in over 300 EU cities. Find a NIGHT near you!

For information about science-policy fellowships and training opportunities you can also visit last month’s GeoPolicy blog on science-policy placements.

4. Research infrastructure (including e-infrastructures) aims to further European research infrastructure for 2020 and beyond. The primary geoscience related outcome of this Excellent Science component is:

As well as the opportunities within the Excellent Science pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme, there are numerous overarching initiatives, tenders and training courses which may be of interest to some geoscientists

  • Researchers are able to join the Horizon 2020 Database by creating a profile outlining their relevant fields and experience. Once registered, researchers may be called upon to provide expert advice and contribute to various projects, evaluations and policy designs
  • Scientists can also play a more active role by submitting a proposal through the Horizon 2020’s Call for Proposals. These calls are continually updated and require a collaborative approach with at least 3 organisations from different EU Member States or associated countries. Various EU partner search services are available for researchers who want to contribute to a project but who are lacking collaborators
  • The Horizon 2020 programme runs innovation competitions. These competitions revolve around prominent societal problems and offer cash prizes to whoever can find the most effective solution or best meet the defined challenge
  • Research institutes within widening countries may find the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation scheme particularly beneficial. Primarily focused on Eastern Europe, it has several initiates that aim to ensure the equal division of innovation and subsequent social and economic benefits across the EU

Despite offering so many opportunities to researchers, the Horizon 2020 programme is not without criticism. Like almost all funding programmes, it is highly competitive.

The proposals submitted during the first 100 Calls for Proposals within the Horizon 2020 programme only had a 14% success rate. While not a surprising percentage, it is approximately 6% lower than the overall proposal submission rate success for the previous research Framework Programme (FP7). The grant and proposal style of funding has also been said to fuel the propagation of casual academic contracts. These casual contracts often result in high competition for positions and increased pressure on researchers due to the continuous tendering and application process.

The Horizon 2020 programme has released an Interim Evaluation Report which despite not mentioning the proliferation of casual contracts, did acknowledge the need for additional funding, intensified international cooperation and greater data accessibility. The Interim Report also highlighted the Horizon 2020’s successes including increased efficiency compared with its FP7 predecessor, scientific breakthroughs, the generation of economic growth within the EU and the strengthening of research infrastructure.

Research and innovation funding post 2020 is yet to be secured but potential for continued growth within the sector was discussed during the Research & Innovation – Shaping our Future conference and in the Investing in the European Future We Want publication.

For further information regarding the Horizon 2020 programme and other EU funding instruments, you can email the Research Enquiry Service or Horizon 2020 National Contact Points.

References 

Academia is now incompatible with family life, thanks to casual contracts: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family

European research funding: it’s like Robin Hood in reversehttps://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/nov/07/european-research-funding-horizon-2020

Horizon 2020 statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/horizon-2020-statistics

Science and Innovation Strategic Policy Plans for the 2020s (EU, AU, UK): Will They Prepare Us for the World in 2050?: http://redfame.com/journal/index.php/aef/article/viewFile/909/851

GeoPolicy: What are science-policy placements and are they for you?

GeoPolicy: What are science-policy placements and are they for you?

This month’s GeoPolicy blog will examine science-policy internships, fellowships, secondments and pairing-schemes in closer detail – highlighting the reasons for undertaking a placement and interviewing Dr Michelle Cain, an EGU member who participated in NERC’Policy Placement Fellowship Scheme

Science-policy placements provide scientists with the opportunity to use their knowledge within a policy-orientated organisation. This could include working with a local government, supporting an NGO or undertaking a project within a larger political body such as the UN or the EU.

There are many reasons that you may decide to take a temporary sidestep from your current career path to a science-policy placement. Undertaking a placement gives you a chance to try something new. Even if you are completely satisfied with your current position, working in a different sector is likely to expand your skill set, illuminate research topics you may not have considered and open up new networks and opportunities to share your research. Taking a step away from your research for a limited period of time may also allow you to look at it with fresh eyes or from a different perspective. Furthermore, it can prepare you for contributing to the policymaking process directly through processes such as the Register of Commission Expert Groups.

On a metalevel, science-policy placements can help integrate science and policy by creating channels for communication and generating a shared understanding about how both academic and policy sectors function.Science-policy placements come in many different forms. They can be as short as one week or as long as four years with variants suitable for researchers at all career levels. The four, primary science-policy placement categories are outlined below:

  1. Internships are normally aimed at students or early career scientists and are typically for a period of between three and six months. Science-policy internships can be found in a plethora of organisations and sectors. Despite not always being paid, internships are a great way to gain an understanding of the science-policy interface and the different roles that exist.
  2. Fellowships are aimed at early to mid-level career professionals who are able to contribute their knowledge and skills to the organisation that they join while allowing them to simultaneously learn new skills to enhance their own expertise. It should be noted that the term ‘fellowship’ is used very broadly and as a result fellowships schemes can range from a paid internship to a secondment in both functionality and fellow responsibilities.
  3. Secondments allow employees to temporarily change roles within the same institute or with a partner organisation. Secondments are believed to expand both the skillsets and interests of the employee, thereby increasing their motivation and ability. Secondments can last from a couple of months to four years and can be on a full time or part-time basis. The employer generally continues to pay the researchers’ wages although the hosting organisation may also supplement their income. This is an excellent option for researchers who are happy with their current position but would like to try something new.
  4. Pairing Schemes involve researchers and policymakers sharing their experiences by spending one week to a few months at each other’s place of employment.

 

Traineeships at the Parliament © European Union 2016 – European Parliament

Despite working as the EGU Policy Officer and with policymakers for the last couple of years, I have never undertaken a science-policy placement. So, I decided to interview Dr Michelle Cain, an EGU member who participated in NERC’s Policy Placement Fellowship Scheme, to get a first-hand insight into the benefits and challenges of being involved with a science-policy placement.

During her 18 month NERC Policy Placement, Michelle worked two days per week advising the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on air quality modelling while continuing her own research. Although she was taken on as the expert within the Department, Michelle was “[…] surprised by how knowledgeable the policy staff were on specific air quality models and the science behind the policy”.

I was surprised by how knowledgeable the policy staff were on specific air quality models and the science behind the policy.

Michelle noted that working in the government department was a “very different world to that of a Post Doc” with “very quick deadlines” and with research topics “determined by the upcoming needs of policymakers” rather than her personal interest. Michelle believed that many scientists may also struggle with the concise nature of the policy briefs as, “most research needs to be summarised in 1-2 pages”.

Despite some of the challenges, Michelle believed her experience with Defra improved her “ability to communicate to a wider audience and pinpoint the most critical pieces of information”. She believes this not only helps her to “communicate research more thoroughly to policymakers but also to the general public as well as friends and family”. The experience also connected her with people working in policy who she would not have known otherwise and who she feels that she can still communicate her research with even though the placement has ended.

The [NERC Policy Placement] improved my ability to communicate to a wider audience and pinpoint the most critical pieces of information.

Michelle believes “the process behind getting science into decision-making is usually too opaque” but by undertaking the placement she was able to “gain an insight into the potential opportunities and avenues that do exist to share my research”. Although it might not be for everyone, Michelle said she would “recommend a similar placement to anyone who was interested in the policy realm or who was thinking about moving in that direction”.

What else should you consider before applying for a science-policy placement?

A few other things you may want to consider before applying for a science-policy placement include: the location (e.g. whether you would like to stay in your current city or perhaps go to an area geographically relevant to your research), the type of organisation (e.g. local government, a regional level institution or a private but politically-orientated organisation) and the skills or knowledge that you would like to gain (e.g. how to present your research to policymakers, how science is used in policymaking or event organisation).

See the EGU Geoscience Policy Internship, Fellowship and Secondment Opportunities to learn more about specific science-policy placements in Europe and around the world. You can also email policy@egu.eu for more information or sign up to the EGU Database of Expertise for regular science-policy updates.

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