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The system of knowledge relay

  • Published at 12:20 pm February 16th, 2020
Climate Tribune_February 2019_Pg 3_The system of knowledge

Translating climate research into policy

The issue of climate change, is widely recognized as a global threat, and is still continuing to reveal all of its facets. In order to better understand the impacts and uncertainties associated with a changing climate, there is a growing research agenda surrounding the topic that is constantly being updated. Climate change is already impacting on many countries. It is therefore important that national plans and policies for strengthening climate resilience are continually informed by ongoing science and research.

The process of knowledge exchange between producers and users is crucial for successful facilitation of climate governance but is never straightforward. Relationships between academic researchers and policymakers are anything but simple.

Moving beyond the ‘mind the gap’ approach?

This complexity has led us to the idea of the ‘science-policy gap’, where universities are perceived to be isolated in their intellectual ‘ivory towers’, while the policymakers work within their ‘real world’ networks. However, it is perhaps unhelpful to continue with this outdated notion because it suggests these groups operate in distinct silos rather than appreciating that they also have shared values and interdependencies.

This brings the need for ’knowledge brokers’ that specifically focus on linking knowledge, power and action around issues related to climate change. The task of the climate knowledge broker is, therefore, to highlight and circulate climate relevant information amongst those concerned with policy, and to help establish systems that allow scientific knowledge to be discussed, contested and used in the development of local, national and international policies.

Considering that universities act as repositories of potentially useful research, they are in a unique position to also act as climate knowledge brokers who can convey research findings to policymakers. As part of efforts to maintain and strengthen the relevance of universities to the wider society, there is an increasing focus on the need to strengthen the relationship between university-based researchers and policymakers.

Talking it out at COP 25

In view of the above, a session was hosted at the Bangladesh Pavilion of the Conference of Parties (COP 25) in Madrid, highlighting the findings of an ongoing study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the LSE’s Institute for Global Affairs (IGA) that aims to shed more light on how university-based researchers in the general field of climate change are currently engaging with worlds of policy in order to bring their research findings to the attention of policymakers.

The study was conducted in 4 countries, 2 in the global south and 2 in the global north, and aimed to map the networks of university-based researchers, and to learn from their specific experiences. For the purpose of the session, the definition of the ‘policy world’ goes beyond government officials and includes civil society, public sector, and private sector entities, thereby acknowledging interaction with all parties that have any influence in the process of policymaking. Policy is influenced by many interests, not just by government.

Some of the key points of concern that were raised during the discussion that inhibit engagement by researchers included the heavy teaching hours and lack of research grants available to younger faculty members, especially in the context of universities in the ‘global south’. There is also the issue of academics and policymakers not occupying shared spaces, as a result of which when academic research findings are disseminated it still remains within the same circle of academics. In addition, it is also important to acknowledge that even within university faculty members there will be differences in disciplines, preferences and personalities; while some academics want to contribute to policies but struggle to form connections others are genuinely indifferent and are primarily interested in staying within the academic world.

Establishing a new common language?

Despite the differences between researcher and policymaker positions and the enormous challenges of the process, it is vitally important to do more to ensure that climate research is now made more available both to those being impacted by climate change as well as to those that are in charge of the governance of climate action.

The session ended with a discussion on an array of approaches that could be employed to make the process of knowledge relay between the different agencies more fluid. Some of the possible strategies that came out of the study include, hosting multi-stakeholder events within universities and creating more spaces for networking opportunities, as well as putting more effort into engaging external agents (such as research centres, think tanks etc.) as brokers between universities and policy worlds. The discussion concluded with the idea that the language used by both academic researchers and policymakers should be made more understandable for all, and so there is a need to instil more creativity when it comes to communicating climate science to a wider audience.

Shababa Haque is an Environmental Researcher working as a project coordinator at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).

David Lewis is a professor of social policy and development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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