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A Conversation on Nature and Culture’s Latest Special Issue

The latest issue of Nature and Culture is a Special Symposium on “Nature, Science, and Politics, or: Policy Assessment to Promote Sustainable Development?” This post is a conversation between the issue’s Guest Editors, Sabine Weiland, Vivien Weiss, and John Turnpenny, on why this topic was selected.

The issue is currently available via Ingenta on the Nature and Culture website, here.


John: Maybe we should explain to the reader why we chose this topic for our Special Symposium?

Sabine: Sure! The idea for this Special Symposium grew out of the LIAISE (‘Linking Impact Assessment Instruments to Sustainability Expertise’) Network of Excellence in which the three of us are involved. LIAISE focuses on impact assessment of planned policies, which has become a standard procedure in OECD countries for the preparation of legislation. This is meant to improve the evidence base of decision-making and to consider the concerns of sustainable development from early on in the process.

Vivien: Overall, LIAISE is trying to bridge a gap which seems to be there between science and policy. A lack of impact of scientific knowledge can be seen as a missed opportunity for sustainable policy making. It can be argued that identifying and bridging these existing operational gaps is the key to improving the quality of policy impact assessment.

Sabine: But much of the practice of policy assessment relies on a ‘linear model’ which represents a one-way flow of knowledge from science to the policy and decision making arena. This is a very idealised picture, however. In many cases research has a much more indirect and less predictable impact on policy through knowledge creep and longer-term learning. This was the starting point for our Special Symposium.

Vivien: Yes, we ask how the utilization of scientific knowledge in policy making and its impact in the policy process itself can be better understood. We are particularly interested in how science and politics interact in practice, especially in the field of policy impact assessment and sustainable development.

John: There are many different ways of investigating how scientific evidence and policy-making interact. What this Symposium does is take several of these different angles, applied to particular concrete cases – responding to climate change in China, international biodiversity protection, forestry management in Finland, and chemicals regulation, for example. One of the main messages is that while science and politics together determine problems and solutions, strong boundaries are often drawn around the different domains of ‘science’, ‘policy’ and ‘nature’ and the roles of each. We need to find out more about why this boundary drawing is so persistent.

Sabine: We hope that our readers can learn from the rich contributions to the Special Symposium, and better understand science-policy interaction. We also hope these insights might eventually lead to better-conducted policy assessments that are supportive of sustainable development.

Vivien: We wish the audience of Nature + Culture an interesting read!