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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

GeoPolicy: Have your say on Horizon 2020

GeoPolicy: Have your say on Horizon 2020

The European Union provides almost 75 billion euros of funding through the Horizon 2020 scheme. This money can fund research projects, studentships, post-doctorates and scientific outreach (to name but a few!). The EU is now calling for feedback and comments about the scheme. This month’s GeoPolicy explains how you can have your say.

 

Are you a PhD student funded by European Research Council (ERC) or have you received grants from the ERC? If so, this money will have come from the Horizon 2020 (H2020) scheme, funded by the European Union (EU).

Essentially, H2020 provides financial support to scientists and businesses wishing to establish projects that overlap with the EU’s policy objectives (promoting excellent science that benefits society). H2020 was introduced in more detail in a previous GeoPolicy post entitled ‘An overview of EU funding for the Earth, atmosphere, and space sciences’. The scheme runs from 2014 to 2020. Now, at this halfway stage, the EU requesting feedback through an online survey.

The objective of the consultation is to collect information from a wide audience on different aspects of the implementation of the Joint Undertakings operating under Horizon 2020.

The survey is open to all and feedback will be used to improve the second half of H2020 and to support discussions currently being conducted on the next EU funding project: FP9 (Framing Programme 9, 2021-2030).

Contributions are particularly sought from researchers, industry, entrepreneurs, innovators and all types of organisations that have participated in Horizon 2020 and in calls for proposals published by the Joint Undertakings in particular.

So, if you have been part of the H2020 process then consider completing the survey. Deadline for complete is the 10th March 2017.

LINK TO SURVEY

 

NB: Applying for ERC research grants is done through the EU Participant Portal. More details about the process can be found here.

GeoPolicy: A new vehicle emissions test to be introduced, say EU’s top scientists

Inspector testing vehicle emissions

Last year the European Commission appointed a panel of world leading scientists to advise on key science policy issues. In November, the panel issued their first recommendation report focusing on COvehicle emissions. The month’s GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at this high-level advisory panel and the recommendations they have published.

 

In 2015, the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) was established by the European Commission (EC) to improve research communication to policy officials. Previously, a Chief Scientific Advisor served this process, but after the position was discontinued in 2014 a crater was left in providing evidence-based policy in Europe. In response, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, established SAM, which centres around a high-level panel of scientific experts who publish reports of topics of societal importance. These topics are chosen by the EC or suggested by the panel members themselves. SAM’s overall structure was covered in a previous GeoPolicy post entitled ‘GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers‘.

The panels’s first report, entitled ‘Closing the gap between light-duty vehicle real-world COemissions and laboratory testing’1, was commissioned in the wake of the Volkswagen NOemissions scandal in 2015. The report aimed to assess the scientific basis for improving measurements of light duty vehicle CO2 emissions, which approaches could be considered, and what additional scientific and analytical work would be needed to implement these tests.

The major findings say that developing further emissions testings, in both the laboratory and within the vehicles themselves, would significantly decrease the gap in measured levels. This test, known as the Worldwide Harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure, will be a tougher standard for car manufacturers to adhere to and aims to be introduced across the EU in September 2017. In addition, a ban in awarding certificates to cars who have not been tested using the new method will be implemented. Finally, SAM’s panel recommend a review of the new procedure in 5 years to assess the improvements2.

SAM’s panel consists of 7 members (listed below). The geosciences are (loosely) represented by the newest panel member, Carina Keskitalo, a Professor of Political Science at the Department of Geography and Economic History at Umeå University. She researches into natural resource-use policy, in particular forestry and climate change adaptation policy. She replaced the UK Met Office’s chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo, who served as a SAM member for one year.

High level group members:

  • Janusz Bujnicki – Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Bioinformatics and Protein Engineering, International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Warsaw (biology);
  • Pearl Dykstra – Professor of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam (social science);
  • Elvira Fortunato – Deputy Chair – Professor, Materials Science Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology, NOVA University, Lisbon (material science);
  • Rolf-Dieter Heuer – Former Director-General of CERN (particle physics);
  • Carina Keskitalo – Professor, Department of Geography and Economic History (land-use and climate change);
  • Cédric Villani – Director, Henri Poincaré Institute, Paris (mathematics);
  • Henrik C. Wegener – Chair – Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer and Provost, Technical University of Denmark (epidemiology / microbiology).

The group aims to publish its second recommendation report on cybersecurity before the end of the year.

 

Sources / Additional reading

[1] – The SAM CO2 emissions report

[2] – ScienceBusiness: COtest is a clear step forward

[3] –  The Scientific Advice Mechanism

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

Scientific research is usually verbally communicated to policy officials or through purposefully written documents. This occurs at all levels of governance (local, national, and international). This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the main methods in which scientists can assist in the policy process and describes a new method adopted by the European Commission (EC) that aims to enhance science advice to policy.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, science-for-policy communication can be instigated by both scientists and policy officials (not just from the policy end). Scientists are increasingly encouraged to step out of their ‘ivory tower’ and communicate their science to the glittering world of policy. During my PhD, I presented my thesis results to civil servants at the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change. That meeting was a result of me directly contacting the department with a summary of my work. Scientists should not feel afraid to contact relevant policy groups, although this is perhaps easier to do on the local / national scale rather than on the international level.

 

Types of policy engagement

Some of the commonly reported scientific evidence for policy methods are described below:

  1. Surveys: Government organisations may send out targeted or open questionnaires to learn stakeholders’ opinions on certain topics. This method is used for collecting larger sample sizes and when the general consensus and/or dominant views need to be known.
  2. Interviews: one-on-one meetings are commonly used for communicating science to policy officials; either by phone or in person. These provide opportunities for in-depth discussions and explanations.
  3. Discussion workshops: the term ‘workshop’ is loosely used when referring to science policy. It can describe a semi-structured meeting where no predefined agenda has been set, or the term can refer to participants systematically discussing a topic with specific aims to be achieved (Fischer al., 2013). Workshops can involve solely scientists or combine policy workers and scientists (examples of the latter at the UK Centre from Science and Policy). Workshops usually result in a written summary which can be used for policy purposes.
  4. Seminars: experts give talks on their research for interested policy officials to attend and ask questions afterwards. For more tips on ways to communicate science to policy officials please read May’s GeoPolicy post.
  5. Policy briefings: may refer to a several types of written document. They are usually written after a workshop or to summarise scientific literature. Briefings are usually written by so-called bridging organisations, which work at the science-policy interface. These documents can be relatively brief, e.g., the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have published several ‘factsheets’ on different Earth-science topics, or more detailed, e.g., the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) regularly publishes ‘POSTnotes’.
  6. Reports: these are far longer documents which review the current scientific understanding. The IPCC reports are key examples of this, but it should be noted that any long report intended for wider-audiences should always contact a short summary for policymakers as they almost certainly do not possess the time to read full reports.
  7. The Delphi method: this less-commonly known practice combines both individual and group work and is supposed to reduce biases that can occur from open discussion platforms. Experts answer questions posed by policy workers in rounds. In between each round an anonymous summary of the opinions is presented to the participants, who are then asked if their opinions have changed. The resulting decisions can then draft a policy briefing.
  8. Pairing schemes: an alternative method used to bridge the science policy gap. This is a relatively new initiative but examples have occurred on the national (Royal Society and MPs paired together in the UK) and international level (EU MEPs paired with European-based scientists). These schemes involve an introductory event at the place of governance, which include seminars and discussions. Bilateral meetings are then organised at the Scientists’ institutions. These initiatives aim to help participants on both sides appreciate the different working conditions they experience. The EU-wide pairing scheme encourages pairs to work together producing a science policy event at a later date. This is still to be determined as the initial pairing only occurred in January.

 

Recruiting scientists

Different pathways exist for scientists to partake in these meetings. These include:

More commonly, scientists are contacted through the policy organisation’s extended personal network. This has been criticised as it can restrict the breadth of scientific evidence reaching policy, as well as it being not transparent. Under EC President Jean-Claude Junker, a Scientific Advice Mechanism has been defined, in which a more transparent framework for science advice to policy has been set out.

 

What is the Science Advice Mechanism? (SAM)

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

 

This mechanism aims to supply the EC with broad and representative scientific in a structured and transparent manner. The centre-point to this is the formation of a high level scientific group which will work closely with the EC services. This panel comprises seven members “with an outstanding level of expertise and who collectively cover a wide range of scientific fields and expertise relevant for EU policy making”. This panel provides a close working relationship with learned societies and the wider scientific community within the EU. Since its initiation is 2015 the panel has met twice to discuss formalising this mechanism further. The minutes for the meetings are publically available here. More information about SAM is available in the EPRS policy briefing ‘Scientific advice for policy-makers in the European Union’.

Previously, the EU had appointed a Chief Scientific Advisor, however this role was discontinued after 3 years as it was considered too dependent on one individual’s experience. A panel is thought to provide a broader range of scientific advice.

 

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