Science and Public Policy :: Current

Based on more than 30 years of experience as a scientist-turned-government-policy director, I would generally describe the approaches used to provide a science contribution to the development and implementation of public policy as haphazard, ineffective, nonexistant, or simply ignored.

Scientists often expressed frustration because the importance and relevance of their work was unrecognized, unappreciated and underfunded. Policy advisers often complained that scientists simply could not give them a straight answer to a simple question. The relationship of science and policy was seen as messy, enigmatic and an art or craft that was, to paraphrase the oft-quoted line, along with how sausages are made, something that should not be seen by the public.

As I see it, the public policy process and its use of science could be a rational, rigorous yet artful decision-making process that can be presented in a way that could be understood, appreciated and applied. We have a tremendous amount of information that can, should, but has not often or consistently been used to achieve this objective. To name a few, this includes works on policy instrument choice, policy capacity, logic and evaluation models, attitudinal and behavioural change, sustainable / responsible development indicators, defined terminology and machinery of government.