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