GeoLog

GeoLog

GeoPolicy: Science and the policy cycle

One way to improve the impact of your scientific research is to engage with policy. Doing so can create new opportunities for yourself and your research. The main challenges are knowing when and how to effectively communicate scientific results to policy. If the wrong timing or communication method is chosen then results are less likely to be incorporated into the policy process. This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the policy cycle and how science can be included to strengthen this practice.

 

Why is the policy cycle used?

The policy cycle is an idealised process that explains how policy should be drafted, implemented and assessed. It serves more as an instructive guide for those new to policy rather than a practical strictly-defined process, but many organisations aim to complete policies using the policy cycle as an ideal.

 

Where is science involved?

Science can have a supportive role in every step of the policy cycle. In fact, novel scientific discoveries can sometimes be the instigator to forming new policies. The classic example of this is the ozone hole discovery in 1985 by British Antarctic Survey scientists, Joesph Farman, Brian Gardiner, and Jonathan Shanklin. After a series of rigorous meetings and negotiations by scientists, policy officials, and politicians, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed on 16 September 1987. Without scientific evidence the Montreal Protocol would never have been created.

 

What are the stages of the policy cycle?

The policy cycle is made up of roughly 6 stages and science can be incorporated into every step. How science supports these different stages are described below.

The policy cycle and where scientific advice can be given.

The policy cycle showing where different types of scientific advice can be given. Gif created at http://gifmaker.me/.

 

  • Agenda Setting: This step identifies new issues that may require government action. If multiple areas are identified they all can be assessed, or particular issues may be given a priority.
  • Scientific Input: As described above, new scientific results can be the foundation for forming new policies. Additionally, new focus areas can be anticipated through so-called ‘horizon / foresight scanning’ events that aim to identify emerging issues of policy-relevance.
  • Example: The government may want to increase energy production from renewable sources. This could be through increased solar panel production and usage.

 

  • Formulation: This step defines the structure of the policy. What goals need to be achieved? Will there be additional implications? What will the costs be? How will key stakeholders react to these effects?
  • Scientific Input: Science can be incorporated in this stage through Impact Assessments, which aim to comprehensively assess what effects will occur from a potential policy. These assessments can study multiple strategies to identify the optimum policy.
  • Example: Should governments offer tax-breaks to start-up renewable energy companies? Or should they offer individual subsidies to solar panel buyers? What might be the effects of these actions?

 

  • Adoption: Once the appropriate approval (governmental, legislative, referendum voting etc.) is granted then a policy can be adopted.
  • Science Input: Those in charge of approving a certain policy will often seek external advice that is independent to those who drafted the policy. Scientists can be called upon to offer advice within the decision-making process.
  • Example: A nation-wide policy can be implemented by the national government, but changing a law will require a vote in Parliament.

 

  • Implementation: Establishing that the correct partners have the resources and knowledge to implement the policy. This could involve creating an external organisation to carry out actions. Monitoring to ensure correct policy implementation is also necessary.
  • Scientific Input: Scientific advice can be needed to logistically support the policy being implemented. Scientists can provide methodological guidance to policy workers and advisory bodies who implement the policy.
  • Example: Administration processes to allow organisations and individuals to apply for subsidies / tax benefits need to be created.

 

  • Evaluation: This step assesses the effectiveness and success of the policy. Did any unpredicted effects occur? These assessments can be quantitative and/or qualitative.
  • Scientific Input: Scientists can evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of policies. This can be done independently or working with policy implementers.
  • Example: The UK and Germany introduced highly popular solar energy policies. Energy production at certain times of the day and year have substantially increased. Occasionally more energy is being produced than is needed, which now leads to further questions about how to handle the ‘excess’ energy.

 

  • Support / Maintenance: This step studies how the policy might be developed, or provides additional support for its continuation. Additionally, the policy can be terminated if deemed redundant, accomplished, or ineffective.
  • Scientific Input: As a policy is continued, scientific advice may be needed on an ad-hoc basis. Updated feedback can be given when needed to help maintain and improve policies.
  • Example: Even if a policy is considered a success, should it be continued? Should solar panel policies be continued, or should policies now focus on improving national electric grids, or should energy storage policies be developed instead?

Remember that scientists should only offer a supportive role to the policy cycle. They should present only the current state of scientific knowledge. Policy officials are the decision makers.

 

Policy cycle shortcomings

The policy cycle has been described as a theoretical concept that it not fully translatable to real world applications. Sometimes, some stages of the cycle are never delivered. Without scientists some of the stages are difficult to accomplish, therefore scientists are in a position to strengthen the policy cycle’s structure through expert advice and assistance.

 

Sources / Further reading

Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: The Policy Cycle and its Stages

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers 

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

The Ozone Hole

Imaggeo on Mondays: what corals can tell us about past climate change

Imaggeo on Mondays: what corals can tell us about past climate change

Reconstructing past climates is a tricky task at the best of times. It requires an ample data set and a good understanding of proxies. Add into the mix some underwater fieldwork and the challenge got a whole lot harder! In today’s Imaggeo on Monday’s post, Isaac Kerlow explains how information locked in corals can tell the story of past climates and how important it is, not only to carry out the research, but to communicate the results to the public! If you stick with this post until the end you’ll be rewarded with a super informative video too!

One of the main science communication initiatives at the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) is about producing short films that showcase the scientific research of the principal investigators. The collection of films created by the EOS Art+Media group is called the “Knowledge Capsules” and they are free to view and download on the internet. On this occasion the filmmaking team travelled to Checheng, Southern Taiwan, to document and explain the field methods of the Marine Geochemistry team.

Creating a successful science film for a mainstream audience requires an understanding of the scientists’ methods, theories and goals. During principal photography that takes place during expeditions the filmmaking team needs to stay a step ahead of the game in order to capture the critical moments such as this image where Dr. Nathalie Goodkin passes a sample of Porites coral (a type of stony, finger-like, coral) to a scientist aboard the research vessel.

The Marine Geochemistry team at EOS investigates Earth’s climate history through the study of corals. This region is where the Kuroshio Current intrudes into the South China Sea. The team extracted samples of the Porites coral species that are approximately 300 to 500 years old, as well as seawater in which these corals grow. Because the chemical composition of corals depends on the seawater in which they grow, analysing the coral samples can give an indication of the temperature and salinity of the surrounding seawater. With these results, the team is able to reconstruct global climate systems throughout several centuries.

By Isaac Kerlow, Earth Observatory of Singapore

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Geosciences Column: A new rock outcrop map and area estimation for the entire Antarctic continent

Geosciences Column: A new rock outcrop map and area estimation for the entire Antarctic continent

Antarctica has been known as “the frozen continent” for almost as long as we have known of its existence. It may be the only place on Earth where, instead of information on the extent of glaciers or ice caps, there exists a dataset of all non-icy areas compiled from satellite imagery.

However, this repository is far from perfect: while satellite resolution and coverage have been steadily improving, Antarctica is challenging ground for remote sensing. Ice and cloud cover can be difficult to tell apart, and the low position of the sun in the sky means that long shadows can make snow, ice and rock very difficult to distinguish. As a result, the estimates of the ice-free proportion of the Antarctic continent have been vague, ranging from “less than 1%” to 0.4%.

In a new paper published in the journal The Cryosphere, scientists from British Antarctic Survey and the University of Birmingham show that the continent is even icier than previously thought. Using imagery from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite, they find that just 0.18% of the continent are ice-free – less than half of previous estimates. This equates to an area roughly the size of Wales on a continent half again as big as Canada.

Lead author Alex Burton-Johnson and his colleagues have developed a new method of accurately distinguishing between ice, rock, clouds and liquid water on Antarctic satellite imagery. Because of the challenging nature of classifying Antarctic satellite imagery, the researchers used only the highest-quality images: they were mostly taken in midsummer, when the sun describes the highest arc in the sky and shadows are smallest, and on days with low cloud cover.

jonf_main

(Left) The blue squares represent the coverage of the 249 satellite images the researchers used, showing that most rocky areas in Antarctica are clustered along the coastline. The images overlap in many places, allowing for more accurate classification where some clouds occur in pictures. (Right) The new dataset for rock outcrops covers all areas marked in red. The NASA Landsat 8 satellite does not cover areas south of 82°40′ South. Islands such as South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands are too consistently cloudy during the summer period, so the new method cannot be applied here. From : Burton-Johnson et al. (2016).

The huge thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet – more than 4,000m in some places – made the scientists’ job easier: they could exclude large parts of the continent where not even the tallest peaks come close to the ice surface. A total of 249 suitably high-quality images covered those parts of the Antarctic continent that have rock outcrops.

A few locations, however, are too extreme for the new image classification method. Some of the South Orkney Islands and the subantarctic island of South Georgia are covered in heavy cloud for so much of the time even in summer that the researchers could not apply their new method. Here, they had to rely on the older dataset. They also had to exclude parts of the rugged but remote Transantarctic Mountains from the study as the Landsat 8 satellite only covers areas north of 82°40’S.

The code for the new classification methodology is available on GitHub, so that enthusiastic remote sensers can try their hand at further improving it or simply admire the frozen beauty of Antarctica from above.

By Jonathan Fuhrmann

References

Burton-Johnson, A., Black, M., Fretwell, P. T., and Kaluza-Gilbert, J.: An automated methodology for differentiating rock from snow, clouds and sea in Antarctica from Landsat 8 imagery: a new rock outcrop map and area estimation for the entire Antarctic continent, The Cryosphere, 10, 1665-1677, doi:10.5194/tc-10-1665-2016, 2016.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Get involved!

Imaggeo on Mondays: Get involved!

Today’s featured image is a throw back to our 2016 General Assembly! Did you enjoy this year’s 619 unique scientific sessions and 321 side events at conference? Did you know that EGU members and conference attendees can play an active role in shaping the scientific programme of the conference? It is super easy! You can suggest a session (with conveners and description), and/or modifications to the existing skeleton programme sessions. So, if you’ve got a great idea for a session for the 2017 conference, be it oral, poster or PICO, be sure to submit it before this Friday, 9th September!

But helping us prepare the next General Assembly is not the only way you can have a say in EGU activities over the coming weeks. The EGU’s Autumn Elections are coming up too and we need your help to identify suitable candidates for vacancies as Division Presidents and Treasurer. Until the 15th of September you can nominate candidates for the positions. Think you’ve got it takes to have a go at the role? Then you are also welcome to nominate yourself!

Finally, did you know that as part of its ‘science for policy’ programme, the EGU is creating a database to identify expertise within the Union that can be used in policy-related events of geoscientific relevance, for example, submitting response texts to the European Parliament’s calls for expert advice? Please register if you have an interest in policy and want to participate more in the science policy process. By registering for this database you may be emailed from time to time with requests to respond to specific events.

For other EGU related news, why not visit our news pages, or catch up on the latest via our monthly newsletter (which you can receive direct to your inbox, simply sig up!)?

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

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