Friday, August 7, 2009 - 9:00 AM

OOS 47-4: Translating environmental science into policy and action

Lee M. Talbot, George Mason University

Background/Question/Methods Many ecologists are skilled at identifying environmental problems and defining solutions, but not at achieving concrete action to implement those insights. The question, then, is how to help ecologists translate environmental science into policy and action. Most ecologists' education and training do not prepare them to be effective in the policy arena, much less in ways to achieve action. Ecologists find disincentives in the form of the academic attitude that somehow the application of science is inferior to so-called “pure science.” This ivory tower holdover has been largely discredited in the context of environmental issues, and the discipline of conservation biology exists explicitly to foster applications of science, but the attitude remains a potent obstacle, especially for younger ecologists seeking academic acceptance and tenure. Even when ecologists ignore or overcome this obstacle, there are few resources available to provide guidance for achieving action. For example, most textbooks that describe the policy process present an academic picture that bears little relationship to the messy real world process. One approach to providing such guidance has been developed in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. This is a course developed specifically to identify and analyze the basic principles, skills and strategies involved in turning scientific knowledge and information, and the policies derived from them, into action. The course uses a series of actual case histories drawn from experience with local and national US and foreign governments, UN organizations, NGOs and other relevant situations. The approach is to give a case history, analyze it, and derive from it the principles, strategies and skills that work. The professor describes the setting, background, objective, procedure followed, and the result. This is followed by class discussion to analyze the case and identify what lessons can be learned, and what specific principles, skills and strategies were responsible for or contributed to the results. Results/Conclusions While there are some basic principles that hold true in many situations, no single formula for achieving action can be applied in every case. Each situation is somewhat different and to succeed one has to be able to select from an array of principles and skills to fit them to the specific needs. This ESP course is a proven way to provide students with a “tool kit” of principles, skills and strategies to guide them effectively to translate environmental science into policy and action.