Blog Post

World Water Week in Stockholm

Workshop Summary: Linking Science, Practice and Policy under Increasing Complexity and Uncertainty

Co-chaired by Jennifer Durley (UNU-INWEH) and Lina Barrera (CI)

The following is a summary of UNU-INWEH’s workshop during World Water Week (2013)This workshop convened scientists, policy-makers and practitioners to consider effective knowledge management and cooperation under changing freshwater futures.

Fundamental and rapid global changes (e.g. climate change, biodiversity losses, anthropocene era, etc.) are upsetting the planet such that we can no longer rely on current water management methods. Baby step improvements will not suffice: what is required is a major leap forward. The workshop “Linking Science, Practice and Policy under Increasing Complexity and Uncertainty” wrestled with communicating innovations and improvements in water governance in the face of high levels of complexity and uncertainty. Session presentations spanned examples from high level international interactions to more bottom up approaches at the local grassroots levels.

Key messages are as follows:

  1. The presentations arched over the entire science-policy-practice spectrum — from the “eagle-eye” standard, top-down science-to-policy/practice approach to the “toad’s eye” grass roots style of practice informing and directing policy. One key message for scientists and researchers was that research should be communicated through means that appeal directly to the heart, a story/narrative that puts a human face to the research and allows the public to directly absorb key messages. It will also increase the likelihood that the local and global media will further disseminate the findings, and ultimately, bring it to the attention of all policy and decision makers.
  2. Given the complex nature of water problems that have to be addressed by many disciplines, workshop discussions highlighted the need to communicate across three levels of the science-policy-practice spectrum: between individual scientists who are often unaware of colleagues elsewhere doing similar work; within organizations where departments often work within closed silos; and between individuals and organizations with the wider external social and political context. Communicating between and across disciplines have become more pressing because water problems have a “wicked” nature where defining the nature of the problem requires several disciplines from the natural to the social sciences working together.
  3. In communicating research to the target audience (e.g. policy maker, politician, or general public) the scientists need to recognize that these folks are looking not only for facts or arguments but for understanding to affect change. To achieve this researchers need to use different ways of communication, getting creative with their communication efforts that to also touch on other cognitive aspects, feelings and emotions. In addition to the traditional workshops and brochures as a means of dissemination, the fine arts, online games, newer electronic means, comics and avatars (e.g., SecondLife) appeal more directly to the public and the politicians that represent them.
  4. The conventional model of communication from the scientists to the “user” operates on a one-way street: today’s complexity of water problems require that a more robust model is one where the true learning journey has the various stakeholders, including scientists and researchers together with the public, the civic leaders and the politicians, learning together and from one another. Several tools for this were presented in the session such as scenario planning, modeling and visualization tools useful in data poor regions.