The increasing complexity of environmental issues in South Africa requires co-operative relationships between the government, society and science clusters, which form the governance trialogue. This paper addresses the challenges related to improved communication between scientists and Parliament, whose members have the mandate to represent the interests of the South African public at the political level.

While scientists from Natural Resources and Environment Unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have on certain occasions managed to inform policy, a disconnect exists in the communication of scientific research results to Parliament. This is evident in the many research programmes that are neither communicated at this level nor integrated into policy or decision-making. This shortcoming presents a serious obstacle to making science relevant at the political level, as members of Parliamentary Portfolio Committees need to be informed about scientific perspectives on contentious issues in order to effectively perform their oversight function. Portfolio Committees are also capable of exerting considerable influence over the government departments and ministers they liaise with. They therefore have the potential to indirectly integrate science-based knowledge into policies and political decisions that further sustainable development in South Africa.

The paper is based on case observations at Parliament, interviews with representatives of academic institutions, government departments and scientific organisations, and analyses of important policy documents and meetings emanating from Parliament. The case findings are interpreted by means of a social learning and mental models framework aimed at better understanding the processes of learning and decision-making in the political sphere.

Several challenges exist when communicating scientific research at the Parliamentary level. These include which organisational strategy should be adopted when communicating research, how to communicate the research, and establishing and managing relationships with key Members of Parliament. The paper discusses these challenges and also presents a way forward for future research work and exploration.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Challenges of communicating science to politicians
An example from South Africa

Nikki Funke   Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

The increasing complexity of environmental issues in South Africa requires co-operative relationships between the government, society and science clusters, which form the governance trialogue. This paper addresses the challenges related to improved communication between scientists and Parliament, whose members have the mandate to represent the interests of the South African public at the political level.

While scientists from Natural Resources and Environment Unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have on certain occasions managed to inform policy, a disconnect exists in the communication of scientific research results to Parliament. This is evident in the many research programmes that are neither communicated at this level nor integrated into policy or decision-making. This shortcoming presents a serious obstacle to making science relevant at the political level, as members of Parliamentary Portfolio Committees need to be informed about scientific perspectives on contentious issues in order to effectively perform their oversight function. Portfolio Committees are also capable of exerting considerable influence over the government departments and ministers they liaise with. They therefore have the potential to indirectly integrate science-based knowledge into policies and political decisions that further sustainable development in South Africa.

The paper is based on case observations at Parliament, interviews with representatives of academic institutions, government departments and scientific organisations, and analyses of important policy documents and meetings emanating from Parliament. The case findings are interpreted by means of a social learning and mental models framework aimed at better understanding the processes of learning and decision-making in the political sphere.

Several challenges exist when communicating scientific research at the Parliamentary level. These include which organisational strategy should be adopted when communicating research, how to communicate the research, and establishing and managing relationships with key Members of Parliament. The paper discusses these challenges and also presents a way forward for future research work and exploration.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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