Damned if we do and damned if we don't

Scientists, policy makers and resource managers were urged to overcome their different perspectives in order to deliver environmental outcomes by Professor Roger Bradbury, Chair of the CRTR Program’s Modelling & Decision Support Working Group.

He was addressing a technical workshop on the interface between science and management preceeding the GEF International Waters Conference in Cairns today.

“Scientists are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’ try to influence policy,” said Professor Bradbury, acknowledging the barriers faced by this group.

He urged scientists to consider several factors for constructive engagement with policy makers and resource managers.

Cultural clash can be an issue with individuals coming from quite different backgrounds and operating in professional environments with disparate performance drivers and values.

Translating science for management and policy makers presents a significant challenge, as some people may be focused at a very micro scale (eg how can I fix the weeds in my marine reserve?) and others are looking at the big picture (eg what global changes are needed to reduce the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on the world's oceans?). Scientists must cater to both ends of the spectrum.

Managers and policy makers are not always receptive to science messages as there is a perception that scientists create problems and restrictions. Managers in particular like freedom of action in their area of responsibility, yet they seek direction, so can be difficult to please. 

Professor Bradbury urged managers to reach out to scientists to help them deliver information in a useful way.

“The role of economics can also be problematic,” says Professor Bradbury.

“Economics can often by-pass the science, disenfranchising the scientists and confusing the policy makers.”

Policy makers are looking for integrated management, and are driven by the need for action. Frustration can occur when scientists say “don’t act” or “leave it alone.”

Lastly, he recommended that scientists acknowledge that policy making and resource management is hard work, and do their best to take into account the needs of those they seek to influence.

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