Training Module I


Scientific Advisor:
IUFRO Task Force on Forest Science-Policy Interface

Simmathiri Appanah, FAO
Michael Kleine, IUFRO-SPDC

The need for sound scientific information in the development of public environmental and forest-related policies at the local, national and international levels has grown significantly in recent years. Although it is commonly accepted that scientific information is indispensable for policy and management, linking substantive knowledge and authoritative political decision making is a chronically difficult task. In view of this, IUFRO-SPDC – over the past 5 years – conducted a series of training workshops for creating awareness among scientists in developing countries of the importance of science-policy interfacing issues.

The training provides concepts and methods to researchers on how to plan, conduct, and organise research activities so that research results can more quickly and easily be transformed into usable information for problem-solving and policy-making.

The workshop content is based on the work of international experts convened by IUFRO in its Task Force on the Science-Policy Interface. Participants learned about key aspects of science-policy interactions, and best practices for work at the science-policy interface in the context of international, national and local policy processes such as the International Forest Regime, global conventions, national forest programmes, national poverty reduction strategies and community-driven processes at local level. A wide range of case studies will be presented addressing forest-related issues in Africa, Asia and Latin America, highlighting the challenges involved and practical solutions with focus on the formulation of research programmes that adequately incorporate elements of science-policy interfacing.

As part of the pre-congress training week, this one-day module was attended by four groups with sizes ranging from 16 to 24 participants.

After a brief opening statement, Michael Kleine gave an overview on the IUFRO-SPDC Training Initiative on Science-Policy Interfacing as part of IUFRO’s contribution to research capacity building in developing countries. The participants were then introduced to the subject of science-policy interfacing by a presentation on aspects of interactions between the science community and policy-makers. Important issues included (a) the difficulties in making the link between substantive knowledge and political decision-making (b) two ideal-type models explaining science-policy interactions; (c) types of knowledge use; (d) policy relevancy of research; (e) public attention cycle; (f) data versus frameworks and (g) the importance of establishing long-term processes of science-policy interactions. In his presentation Michael Kleine also outlined the specific tasks and challenges of linking science to policy.

In a short discussion session, participants had the opportunity to share some of their experiences in interacting with policy makers. The issues discussed in this session underline the fact that science communication and the interaction between the forest science community and policy makers is still limited. Therefore, forest scientists need to take a more active role towards informing policy.

In his presentation, Simmathiri Appanah provided an overview over international and national policy processes and initiatives and elaborated on opportunities for the science community to provide input to such processes. Besides existing conventions on climate, biodiversity and desertification, major avenues are through the United Nations Forum on Forests and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests. IUFRO, for example, provides scientific advice through the Global Forest Expert Panel Initiative. Country-level national forest programmes represent another important way of feeding scientific information into national and local policy making. Following the presentation, participants discussed their own experience with input to national and international policy making. Except for a few mid-career scientists who have been involved in such processes, the majority of the participants did not have such an opportunity. However, understanding the options in at national and local level and creating awareness of the importance of such knowledge transfer activities was underlined.

In the afternoon, Michael Kleine presented the “IUFRO Best Practices Guidelines for Working Effectively at the Interface of Forest Science and Forest Policy - Guidance for Scientists and Research Organizations” that had been elaborated by the IUFRO Task Force on the Forest on the Science-Policy Interface. These guidelines explain key aspects of the role of scientists in policy processes and their contribution to policy making. In this context it is important to formulate research questions that are of relevance to policymakers, communicate results effectively and build partnerships. At the institutional level, it was emphasised that capacities and arrangements are needed to assist scientists to better interact with policy makers. Although it is desirable for the science community to get involved in policy processes, it is vital for the science community to maintain neutrality and independence.

The participants then split into groups to work on improving science-policy interfacing on the basis of concrete examples of their own research projects. For this purpose the groups were asked to evaluate specific research projects against the IUFRO best practices guidelines based on the following guiding questions: (a) Which of the elements in the best practices guide have been implemented? (b) Have these practices helped to make the project more useful for policy-making? If yes, how?  (c) Should additional elements given in the best practices guide be included into the project? If yes, which ones?  (d) Identify and explain the elements of the best practices guide that would be applicable to make this particular project a role model for science-policy interfacing.

Participants’ Evaluation

In total, 69 persons (32 women, 37 men) from 28 countries participated in the Training Workshops. Results of the training and satisfaction with the workshops were surveyed by an on-line questionnaire available to the participants during a period of one month after the Training Workshops. In total, 40 people responded to the request for comments.

Besides the individual thematic workshops, the survey also evaluated the additional skills training which were attended by all participants during the training week. Out of a total number of 40 responses, therefore all commented on the module on Science-policy Interfacing.

Between 91 and 95% of the participants highly appreciated this training module and found that the training lived up to their expectations; the content is relevant to their jobs; and they are able to use the knowledge discussed in the workshop.

As far as workshop implementation is concerned, more than 90% of the participants were of the opinion that the workshop enhanced their knowledge through clear objectives and appropriate pace of workshop progress.

The majority of the participants were satisfied with the performance of the trainers (i.e. well prepared), and they would recommend this training module to other colleagues.