Making the Connection between Science and Decision Making

  Spring 2014
  Mondays  3:30 - 6:00
  Location: Bio East 314

  Instructor: Connie Woodhouse
  Office: Harvill 412 or 453E
  Office hours: by appointment (626-0235)

  Course web site:

  Schedule and links to reading assignments (password protected)

  Course blog 


    Natural and human systems are becoming increasingly stressed due to changing and increasing demands on resources, climate variability, and in some cases, extreme events such as drought.  In many regions, climate change will further exacerbate stresses on these systems. Because scientific knowledge can be critical for dealing with these issues, a number of efforts are underway to provide scientific information to assist management, planning, and policy making.  However, much science is ultimately not used to inform these actions because there is often a mismatch between the types and format of information available and what is useful for these potential consumers of information. Aside from this confounding incongruity, there is often a fundamental lack of two-way communication between scientists and decision makers.

    This seminar, for both social and physical science students, explores concepts at the intersection between environmental science and decision making, including scientific information supply and demand, boundary organizations, co-production of knowledge, and knowledge networks, as well as recognition of the political context for decision making. It also includes practical aspects of two-way communication to explore the ways in which exchanges take place between scientists and decision makers (including resource management professionals, planners, policy makers, NGOs, and the general public).  

    The seminar will include three interrelated components: 1) foundational concepts related to the use of science in decision making, 2) interactions between scientists and decision makers, and models for these interactions, and 3) written and orals skills for translational science. We will examine the growing body of literature on these topics, but we will also talk with people from both academia and management agencies about the challenges of incorporating scientific information into planning and decision making.  The overarching goal of this seminar is to provide students with some understanding of the dynamics behind the interface between scientists and decision making that result in scientific information being incorporated into planning, policy, and management decisions.  

  Course Organization

    The seminar will be structured around a set of weekly readings. Students will be responsible for reading, thinking about, and  expressing their thoughts on the assigned weekly readings.  A class blog will be used to share comments, responses, and  questions on each week’s reading assignments, guided by several overarching questions.  Each week, one half of the class will  use the blog to make entries on the readings, and one half will respond to their classmates' entries.  The readings, blog  discussion questions, blog comments and responses will form the basis for class discussions.  We will have a number of guest  participants who have academic backgrounds in science/stakeholder interactions or practical experience in working with  decision makers.  Students will have a chance to interact with decision-makers during one class in the middle of the semester,  and at the end, we will talk with several people overseeing programs that bring scientists and decsion makers together to  discuss the challenges and opportunities for working at the interface between science and decision making.

  Assignments include:

  Course Readings

    Class reading assignments for most weeks will be posted on the class schedule. This page   is password protected.  You will be  given the password in class.

  Class Blog

    In reading and understanding written materials, it is useful to spend some time thinking and writing about what has been read.  For each week’s reading assignments, students are to write an entry on the class blog that considers, at least in part, the week's  blog discussion questions. The class will be divided into blog "commenters", and blog "responders" who can respond to any of  the comments.  Questions are welcome as well. These blogs will be used to guide our discussions and address questions that  have come up.  

  Using the Class blog  

  Synthesis Paper

 An important part of the class is synthesizing the concepts discussed in the context of real world applications. In an effort to help  students think about how (and what) foundational concepts take shape to create an effective interface between science and  decision making, students will write a synthesis paper that documents this connection (or alternatively, how the concepts fail to  result in successful interactions).  Each student will select a case study for their seminar paper that focuses on either: 1) a  specific case in which scientific information has been incorporated into decision making, or 2) a comparison of several  science/decision making interface efforts (e.g., the Cooperative Extension model versus an NGO’s work with stakeholders). The  paper should include a review of the relevant literature, the main problem being addressed, a discussion on the extent to which  the basic concepts studied in class are applied, a critique of the efforts undertaking (effectiveness, and how evaluated), and  suggestions for more effective interactions.  Here is some additional guidance.

  Short Presentation

 In addition to the paper, students will prepare a short (~7-8 minutes) oral presentation on a science topic (ideally related to their paper) for a  non-academic audience that utilizes approaches for effective communication, as discussed in class.  Here is some general guidance.

  Due Dates: 

  Requirements and Grading

 This is a graduate-level course open to any students with an interest in the interactions between science and decision making.   The course is 3 credits.

 Students are expected to attend all classes and take an active part in all discussions.  Grades will be based on class  participation (60% of grade), blogs (20%), and   paper/presentation (20%). 

  Other general information, aka the fine print


 Students are expected to attend all classes. 

 No cell phones, pagers, and other disruptive electronic devices.

 Information concerning Code of Academic Integrity

 Information on Policy of Threatening Behavior

 Students with disabilities:  If you anticipate the need for reasonable accommodations to meet the requirements of this course, you must register with the  Disability Resource Center and request that the DRC send the instructor official notification of your accommodations needs as soon as possible.   Please plan to meet with the instructor by appointment or during office hours to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and  activities may impact your ability to fully participate.  See the SALT web page ( or the Center for Disability Related  Resources web page for additional information on obtaining appropriate documentation or other information.  I am happy to help you meet/complete the  requirements for the course.


 The information contained in the course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice,  as deemed appropriate by the instructor.