Whoops! Policy-makers just picked up my science

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

There has been regular, gloomy and frustrated introspection by scientists at this meeting about how to get policy-makers to listen to them more.

It was mind candy, therefore, to hear one scientist’s account of how he was just going about his normal business when the policy world seized his work.

Is it something about the diagram?

Before he knew it, his group’s ideas had been adopted by the European Union and promoted for the Rio+20 agenda. Soon policy-makers had even entered the concept into the draft of the Rio+20 outcome document — although it has subsequently been dropped.

The scientist was Johan Rockström, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, leader of the international team that drew up the idea of ‘planetary boundaries’, which first had their public airing in a feature in Nature magazine in 2009.

“The fact that it was carried over into the policy arena was a positive surprise,” Rockström told the Forum on ST&I in Sustainable Development yesterday.

His group had been experimenting with integrated science and how it could find a way to advance sustainability, he said.

“It was never ready to be transmitted into policy.”

It will be interesting to follow this story. Some policy-makers, he pointed out, dislike the idea for fear it sets limits on development.

Perhaps the prematurity of its entrance into policy-makers’ minds also spells an early departure.

Nevertheless the case might provide insights for those trying to attract policy-makers to their scientific ideas.


This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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