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What are the principles and structures of science advice?

Discover the recent ISC-INGSA Occasional Paper on the development of a training module on science advice and diplomacy for the ISC community and Members.

The need for science advice in policymaking is on the rise. While the processes by which science advice is provided to governments and within the multilateral system were made apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, the interest for scientific evidence precedes it. This ISC-INGSA Occasional Paper is intended to explain key structures and processes in a clear and straightforward manner, so the essential elements of science advice are understood.

“It became clear during our last General Assembly and in subsequent interactions with ISC members, that there is a need in our community to better understand the functions and models of science advice to governments, and for some a willingness to become active in that kind of work. We are now working with INGSA to develop a training in scientific advice specially crafted for the ISC community.”

– Mathieu Denis, Acting CEO and Science Director of the International Science Council, co-author of the paper

To provide evidence-based insights for decision-making, science advice must bring together two dimensions, considered as the essential functions of science advice. Firstly, evidence synthesis, which aims to round up the state of available knowledge on a specific issue, considering the multiple disciplines and framings that can contribute to the knowledge on the issue. Secondly, knowledge brokerage, which aims to enable scientific evidence to be used to deal with a given issue by helping decision-makers to interpret scientific information, draw conclusions from it, and implement the required actions.

As countries are developing their science advice systems to respond to their different contexts, this paper identifies general principles for science advice. This emerging common ground across multiple models of science advice for policy has been exemplified worldwide in the shared experience of the pandemic, all the while having their legitimacy as universal principles increased by the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

“At a time when the world is recovering from the pandemic and trying to realize environmental commitments, all while navigating increasing geo-political uncertainties, we hope a clear and concise summary of typical evidence-to-policy pathways can be a useful resource for government officials and boundary-spanning scientists seeking to establish or strengthen the place of evidence in public policy making.”

– Kristiann Allen, Associate Director at the Centre for Informed Futures at University of Auckland, Founding Executive Secretary of INGSA, co-author of the paper

By presenting the essential functions of science advisory mechanisms and the common principles underpinning them, the paper presents the implications these have on the different structures of science advice and discusses the general structure types that have been used to support decision-makers through knowledge synthesis and brokerage. These models help to frame questions, identify experts, manage knowledge synthesis report, and coordinate across the science-policy interface. The paper notes that they also each have their functional strengths and weaknesses such as their capacity to provide effective and timely advice during a crisis and presents the factors that determine the long-term effectiveness of an advisory structure.

Finally, the discussion ends with the presentation of contexts in which science advice is operationalized, as they also have implications for the structure of the models. The paper notes the distinction between swift science advice for crisis management and long-term advice for emerging issues, and between formal science advice (studies, papers, reports, etc.) and informal science advice (conversations, feedback, etc.). In the case of formal and informal science advice, the paper observes that both play a role but must be accommodated structurally to be effective. When designing a model of science advice, both the essential functions and the context of science advice must be considered if the structure is to be successful.

Principles and Structures of Science advice: An outline

March 2022

An ISC-INGSA Occasional Paper on the development of a training module on science advice and diplomacy for the ISC community and Members.

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Header photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash.

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