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Asia and the Pacific call for better science advice links to government

Four delegates attending the International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA) meeting in Kigali, Rwanda (1-2 May) share their work to ensure trusted science advice is integrated into decision-making and government policy.

The International Science Council Regional Focal Point for Asia and the Pacific is supporting four delegates from the region to attend the International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA) meeting in Kigali, Rwanda (1-2 May). Each delegate is at the forefront of driving very different solutions to improve outcomes for people and the planet.

The researchers, who are from some of the cities and municipalities most vulnerable to climate change, are working to ensure trusted science advice is integrated into decision-making and government policy. They are among the 300 delegates from 65 countries at INGSA 2024 shining a light on the lessons learned and the challenges ahead.

Nadira Karunaweera – Sri Lanka

Professor Nadira Karunaweera is the President of National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka. Nadira led a regional mapping project in 2023 to gain an understanding of the science advice systems that operate in countries of the Australasian region to inform a process for Sri Lanka, which does not currently have a system for science advice to government.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted many conflicting views in the media, emphasized that in times of crisis, many countries, especially in the developing world, lack an effective system for providing science advice to governments.

In the study, representatives from 10 countries provided input on the range of laws and regulations that exist legitimizing institutions and the processes used for government science advice. The institutions that provided advice included the Australian Academy of Science, Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, KG University of Medical Sciences, INGSA-Asia, Korean Academy of Science and Technology, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines, Science Society of Thailand and Turkish Academy of Sciences.

The results revealed a range of structures and processes that influence the science advice frameworks in operation. These include the processes of legitimizing institutions mandated to provide science advice, selection of appointees as science advisers, methods used in seeking and delivering science advice and the impact assessment.

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The researchers hope to replicate the study in other countries to build on best practice examples that will help more countries to institutionalize science advice to governments. 

“I’m keen to attend the INGSA Conference to share our experience on the study of science advice systems within countries of the Australasian region.  Sri Lanka does not have a proper system for science advice; therefore, we want to bridge this gap with this study to learn good practices that operate in these countries.”

Nadira Karunaweera, President of the National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka

Toan Ngoc Dang – Vietnam

Dr Toan Ngoc Dang’s work focusses on empowering ethnic minority communities in the central highlands of Vietnam to have a voice in government decision-making and policy.

The founder and CEO of the Central Highlands Centre for Community Development and Climate Change Adaptation (CHCC) says during the COVID-19 pandemic he found that in regional areas of Vietnam the ethnic minorities were not only unrepresented in policy considerations, but they also received little information in their own language to understand the options available to them. Toan documented some of these impacts, particularly regarding the government’s response strategies and their effects on communities, in a contribution to the book “Pandemic, States, and Societies in the Asia-Pacific, 2020-2021.”

Toan believes by emphasizing the importance of empowering vulnerable communities, including ethnic minorities, to have a voice in their own development process not only aligns with their fundamental right to participate but also enables them to contribute their indigenous knowledge and skills to sustainable development efforts.

“The unique country context and political culture can be one of the barriers to local engagement and I would like to hear from colleagues at INGSA2024 about their experience and solutions that we could use to guide how to bridge this gap so that the local ethnic minority people can get their voice heard in local development processes and so that development outcomes will be more sustainable.”

Toan Ngoc Dang, Founder and CEO of the Central Highlands Centre for Community Development and Climate Change Adaptation (CHCC)

Robert David Karoro – Pacific

According to Robert Karoro, a former advisor to the president of Kiribati, there is also a concerning disconnect between community and decision-makers in the Pacific.

Robert gathers information about challenges the community is facing with regard to climate change and other foreseeable disasters to create vulnerability assessments.

At INGSA2024, Robert is representing the Establishment Committee for a proposed Pacific Islands academy of sciences and humanities. The aim of establishing an Academy in the Pacific is to unify and recognize Pacific scholars and their research to inform government policy and international decisions about the region. An academy will represent the Pacific’s cultural diversity as well as its broad range of natural and social disciplines and encourage science education in every form. It will complement the work of existing scientific, academic and diplomatic bodies and be ethical, transparent and inclusive, embracing the ‘Pacific Way’ of open dialogue, mutual respect and close cooperation.

Hazel Yean Ru Ann – Malaysia

According to the World Health Organization, Zoonotic spillover, which is the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans, is recognized as the predominant cause of emerging infectious diseases and as the primary cause of recent pandemics such as COVID-19.

Dr Hazel Yean Ru Ann holds a joint appointment as a lecturer at Sunway University, Malaysia and oversees the collaborative Zoonotic Spillover project between INGSA-Asia and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). In March 2024, INGSA and NASEM released a best practice guidebook on improving the outcomes for zoonotic spillover in the live animal value chain titled: Countering Zoonotic Spillover of High Consequence Pathogens in Southeast Asia, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing mission to address pressing zoonotic spillover challenges in the region.

Hazel says the spillover risk is increased by a range of factors (called drivers) that impact the nature, frequency, and intensity of contact between humans and wild animals. Many of these drivers are related to human impact, for instance, deforestation and changes in land use and agricultural practices.

There is ongoing discussion on whether to prioritize strategies to prevent, prepare or respond as well as how best to target resources.

“At INGSA 2024 I will share our guideline of best practices to improve outcomes for spillover in the region. We will also explore how science and actions can work together to make us safer from these diseases.”

Dr Hazel Yean Ru Ann, Sunway University, Malaysia and INGSA-Asia/NASEM collaborative Zoonotic Spillover project.

About INGSA2024

INGSA 2024 is one of the largest independent gatherings of thought- and practice-leaders in governmental science advice, research funding, multi-lateral institutions, academia, science communication and diplomacy examining the complex interactions between scientists, public policy and diplomatic relations at local, national, regional and international levels, especially in times of crisis.

Founded in 2014 with regional chapters in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, and key partnerships in Europe and North America, INGSA has established an important reputation as a collaborative platform for policy exchange, capacity building and operational research across diverse global science advisory organizations and national systems.

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The International Network for Governmental Science Advice presents INGSA2024: The Transformation Imperative

ISC is contributing to a number of sessions through its staff, Board, Fellows, and members.

Image caption: Robert Karoro teaches a youth-based organization in Kiribati; Ocean Alliance for Restoration & Sustainability (OARS) about mangrove growing on the 17th of April is Tarawa. This is part of an ongoing activity for Kiribati Climate Action Network, with NGOs and communities in Kiribati. (Photo: Jack Board)

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