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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.

 

GeoPolicy: 8 science-based projects improving regions in the EU

GeoPolicy: 8 science-based projects improving regions in the EU

As scientists, it can sometimes be difficult to see the real-world implications of some of our research. Concepts can often seem abstract and remote when sitting in a lab or taking field measurements. But researching the Earth sciences can have profound effects on global society. Understanding how the natural world works can help protect and improve human, animal, and plant life. This month’s GeoPolicy post (part of the European Geosciences Union GeoLog Blog) highlights EU funded projects that have their foundations in the Earth sciences.

EU member states can apply for regional project funding that aims to improve living standards for the residents living within that region. Projects can be technology, medicine, environment, or social-science based. This post highlights 8 projects that have resulted from earth-science research. Scroll down to see what projects are going on in your country, or your area of science. A full list of EU funded projects can be found here and more information on the EU regional development fund can be found on their website.

 

Preventing coastal erosion in Southern France

Coastal erosion causes coastlines to collapse and retreat landward. This can have damaging effects on local residents, or on those who use the coast for recreational activities. In the Mediterranean, beaches are sustained by sediment supplied from river deltas. Erosion can occur when less river sediment is transported to the coasts. This can occur when there has been a decrease in the frequency of major floods, catchment reforestation, dam construction, or dredging activities1.

The EU funded a project to protect coastal regions in the South of France; an area popular for tourists and local residents alike. Amongst other initiatives, which included infrastructure changes, a dune ridge was re-established to protect the beach and coastal area.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/france/preservation-of-coastal-gem

 

River adaptation to fight flash floods in Spain

The Simat region, located on the East coast of Spain, near Valenciana, is often subjected to flash flooding as it is situated between mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Flash floods caused by heavy autumn rains burst river banks and have a devastating effect on the surrounding villages.

EU funding provided both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ flood defences for the Valenciana region. Soft river defences use natural resources and local knowledge to protect residents from flooding. A region upstream of Simet was reclaimed for flood plains and the river was widened. To complement this, a canal system (an example of a hard defence strategy) was constructed further downstream.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/spain/river-adaptation-to-fight-flash-floods

 

Energy Efficiency: Recovering heat to produce thermal energy in Greece

Increasing energy efficiency is a key objective for the European Union: there is a specific EU Directive that focuses entirely on improving energy usage. By 2020, the EU aims to have saved roughly the equivalent of 400 power stations-worth of energy2.

Florina, a city in mainland Greece, has been awarded EU funding for a project aimed to distribute unused heat energy from power stations to 23,000 local residents. Surplus heat will be piped as ‘superheated water’ to local homes and businesses. As well as improving energy efficiency, this project is expected to cut water-related greenhouse gas emissions by 88%, as hot water will no longer be heated by traditional oil and gas combustion methods.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/greece/recovering-heat-to-produce-thermal-energy

 

Improving groundwater quality in Poland

Groundwater is a lifeline to supplying Europe with freshwater. Over 300 million EU citizens get their drinking water from these subsurface water deposits. Unfortunately, groundwater can become contaminated making it unfit to be consumed, and endanger aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. This can happen when septic systems that are not connected to modern sewer systems leak bacteria, viruses, and chemicals into the environment.

An EU funded project for the Poznań region in Poland is protecting local groundwater supplies by improving wastewater treatment networks, which will benefit almost 736,000 local inhabitants. The construction of an integrated water and wastewater monitoring system helps to protect residents as well as the surrounding ecosystems.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/poland/improving-groundwater-quality-around-poznan

 

Micro-hydropower plants in the UK and Ireland

The world needs to shift to non-carbon based energy generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EU aims to achieve 20% energy generation from renewable sources by 2020 (2012 levels stood at 11%)3. Renewable energy sources include hydropower, geothermal, wind energy, solar energy, and biomass. Hydropower is commonly generated through dam structures, where flowing water passes through a turbine. An alternative method is to take surplus electrical energy from the grid and use it to pump water to elevated ground, therefore storing it as potential energy to be used later.

A common method within water supply systems is to use pressurised pumps to transport water to the pipeline network. Excess pressure is often vented, releasing unused energy into the atmosphere. A recently funded EU project aims to create hydro-energy from these supply systems by installing micro-hydropower plants on the ventilation valves. The generated electricity can be used to reduce conventional energy consumption. The project has been funded for regions in Wales and Ireland, however it is thought this technology could be expanded across Europe and beyond.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/europe/retrieving-water-energy-at-micro-hydropower-plants-could-pave-the-way-to-more-sustainable-water-supply-systems-in-ireland-and-wales

 

Turning copper to gold: mining in Portugal

Raw materials, including minerals and rare-earth elements, are used in infrastructure, renewable energy resources, agriculture, and telecommunications. The vast majority of these resources are imported to the EU, and very few mineral mines are located within Europe. It is important to improve the security of supply by either increasing internal supply or reducing the need for these materials.

The Alentejo region in Portugal is located on the Iberian pyrite belt, a geological zone rich in mineral deposits. Mining has occurred for many centuries and the region currently employs over 500 people. Funds have been awarded to develop the mine’s capabilities to increase its output of copper ore, whilst continuing to meet EU environmental standards.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/portugal/turning-copper-to-gold

 

Adapting water management to climate change in Denmark and Germany

Greenhouse gases absorb radiated energy from the Earth and re-radiate this as heat; raising global temperatures. This results in ice caps and glaciers melting and causes rising sea levels. Low-lying countries are now experiencing greater flooding episodes and increasing storm surges (another effect of manmade climate change). The Syddanmark region in Denmark and the Schleswig-Holstein region in Germany was awarded EU funding to assess and reduce the damage new flooding has on these areas. After discussions with professionals, politicians and members of the public, it was decided to develop a hydrological model to assess the future impacts flooding would have. The model was able to highlight where dikes should be relocated and retention areas be created to reduce negative flooding impacts. Additionally, the resulting changes showed positive biodiversity effects in these new areas from the temporary flooding.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/europe/grenzwasser-adapts-water-management-to-climate-change-requirements

 

Establishing a commercial spaceport in Sweden

Space research and exploration does more than simply try to answer overarching questions about life, the solar system, and beyond. The research and development driven by space science and exploration have led to inventions that are now used to help us in our daily lives. The ESA has a portfolio of ~450 inventions, covering areas such as optics, robotics, and electrical power. The development of the so-called “second space age” is seeing private space companies contributing to research and innovation, as well as providing opportunities for more commercial space flights.

The Kiruna region, in Northern Sweden, established an international space and research ground-station over 50 years ago. The station hosts rocket and balloon launches, satellite monitoring, new space and flight systems testing, and multiple ground-based space measurements. A project has been funded to transform the Kiruna centre into a ‘fully functioning spaceport’ to develop new products, services, research, and education.

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/best-practices/sweden/2105

 

More information about EU project funding and where it is allocated can be found on the European Commission website.

 

Sources:

1 – http://www.climatechangepost.com/france/coastal-erosion/

2 – https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency

3 – http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/europe/energy

 

GeoPolicy: An overview of EU funding for the Earth, atmosphere, and space sciences

GeoPolicy: An overview of EU funding for the Earth, atmosphere, and space sciences

Are you thinking of applying for funding? Or are you considering a career in academia and want to know where your research funding could come from? The European Union (EU) has large financial resources available for academic scientific research and innovation (R&I). This is in addition to national government funding bodies. This blog post, the 5th in the EGU’s GeoPolicy series, introduces R&I funding policies in the EU, and lists the major funds available for EGU scientists.

The EU aims to ensure EU scientific research is at the forefront of knowledge discovery. EU member states are encouraged to invest 3% of their GDP by 2020 to provide funding for R&I. Its goals are to tackle the ‘challenges of our time’ (food security, energy demand, climate change, an aging population etc.) and to boost European economy through a single European Research Area [1].

The EU has a variety of interlinked programmes which offer funding for R&I. These are available to public and private sector organisations and total a staggering 130 billion euros. Funding for academics is primarily available through the Horizon 2020 (H2020) programme, although some other initiatives, which are sector focused, are also open to researchers. The figure below shows all EU R&I funding opportunities, and the amount each programme has to spend (in million euros).

 

 

H2020 is by far the largest available funding resource for EGU academics. Some specific areas of EGU science have additional funding sources available. These include:

  • Space: There are two programmes which offer funding for space related activities (in addition to H2020). The Galileo initiative aims to improve global satellite navigation, with the intention of launching over 300 satellites around Earth by 2020. Funding is available for R&I into the development of ‘fundamental elements of the satellite system’ i.e. electrical components. The Copernicus programme provides ‘accurate and reliable information and data in the field of environment and security’ using both satellites and in-situ equipment. Funding is available for the development of Earth observation techniques.
  • Agriculture & forestry: The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development provides grants for those performing research and innovation activities in the fields of agriculture, food production, and forestry.
  • Research networks: The European Social Fund can be used for ‘the training of researchers and to support networking between research institutions’.

As a side note the EU also indirectly provides funding for students through the Erasmus+ scheme to relocate ‘in the pursuit of education and training opportunities’. [2]

H2020

H2020 offers funding for successful applications that meet some of their policy objectives. There is little under 75 billion euros available for R&I. The H2020 subsections which are relevant to EGU scientists are listed below:

How to apply

The video below gives a basic introduction to applying for H2020 funding. [3]

Funding for research grants (i.e. from the ERC or a Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant) is done through the Participant Portal. This is where scientists can submit a research proposal of their own design. Alternatively, funding for specific projects, proposed by the EU, can be applied for through the Calls for Proposals webpages. Calls are uploaded to this website throughout the running of H2020 (2014-2020) so it is worth regularly checking for recently postings. [4]

The application process involves submitted proposals to be evaluated by academic and industrial experts, rather than European Commission employees. More information about the application process can be found here. Academics who wish to apply as a registered expert to review research proposals can find more information here.

Edit: The Marie Curie Alumni Association website lists 10 direct links where european research funding can be found.

Sources used for this blog post

[1] – http://europa.eu/pol/rd/

[2] – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2015/568327/EPRS_BRI(2015)568327_EN.pdf

[3] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmN0NccQCD0

[4] – http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/home.html