5. Science Advice in Denmark and the Nordic Countries

2015-2017 Sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science (Udlodningsmidler)
PI David Budtz Pedersen

For years, controversies over scientific expertise have continued to permeate public discourse and policy-making. Responding to the increasingly complex nature of societal challenges and the need for timely and robust scientific advice, the project engages key international experts and stakeholders to share best practices and perspectives on science advice to governments. Scientific advice has never been in greater demand; nor has it been more contested. From climate change to cybersecurity, from pandemics to vaccines, from food production to infrastructure and energy, the questions being asked by scientists, policy-makers, the media and the wider public continue to multiply.

In more and more fields, there is an urgent need for scientists to provide input into policy e.g. in terms of evidence, possible solutions, impact and informed opinions. At the same time, the authority and legitimacy of scientific experts are under scrutiny, particularly in areas of controversy, such as climate change, GMO or reproductive technologies. Scientific experts are regularly confronted by think-thanks, citizen groups, social media and individuals who have access to an abundance of unverified information and who are able to mobilize advocacy and counter-evidence in areas of public health, urban planning, security or any other domain of public policy. The European Commissioner for Research and Innovation Carlos Moedas has noted that contemporary Europe is approaching a “post-factual democracy” in which science-informed policy-making is increasingly challenged. Facts and norms, science and politics, permeate each other in numerous ways which makes it difficult for policy-makers and experts to claim authority. At the same time, group dynamics such as pluralistic ignorance, polarization and bystander effects have ramifications for the ability of governmental agencies and advisers to communicate scientific expertise in the face of public controversies.

SCIENCE ADVICE IN DENMARK AND THE NORDIC COUNTRIES examines a number of specific cases and frameworks used by global organisations, parliaments and governments to provide input and evidence to policy-makers. Scientific advisory mechanisms exist in different forms and at many different levels each with their own organisational design and mandate. Worldwide, novel structures for scientific advice have been established through new institutions like the UK Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES); the appointment of Chief Science Advisers or the establishment of the EU Scientific Advise Mechanism (SAM). In today’s complex scientific and technological ecosystems, various advisory bodies exist, covering a broad spectrum from governmental policy-oriented research institutes to agencies and academies. The diversity of approaches to science advice cannot be underestimated, and one size does not fit all. As brokers of knowledge, science advisers and experts aim to communicate scientific knowledge in such a way as to assist decision-makers in balancing evidence and social values.

The aim of this project is to create a dialogue between science advisers, experts and practitioners to share models and lessons. Without platforms that connect practitioners of science advice with decision-makers, funding agencies and universities there will be no real progress in conveying science advice to governments. Key themes to be explored include

  1. The importance of recognising the broad social context in which science is undertaken and applied;
  2. The value of involving policy-makers and publics in shaping the questions that science can help answer;
  3. The need for collaboration among scientists, authorities and civil society to advance the accountability and transparency of knowledge brokering.

In April 2017, we are organizing a conference in collaboration with the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA) that explores mechanisms and best practices for translating scientific knowledge into policy-making. The aim of the conference is to explore and discuss enablers and barriers of science advice to governments and authorities in Denmark and the Nordic Countries. Here, stakeholders will have the opportunity to learn first-hand about (1) framework conditions for science advice, (2) best practices of science advice in public health and social policy, and (3) ways to enrich and enhance local science advisory systems.

Read more here:

Budtz Pedersen, D. (2014). The Political Epistemology of Science-Based Policy-Making. Soc 51: 547. doi:10.1007/s12115-014-9820-z

International Science Advisory Organisations:

International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)

Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM)

Danish Council for Research and Innovation (DFIR)