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Effectively Bridging the Gap: The Case for Science-Policy Workshops

Assessing Workshop Effectiveness

To develop a metric of effectiveness, workshop organizers subsequently surveyed workshop participants from the entire series. Participants were sent a short questionnaire and asked directly whether the workshops and subsequent reports actually informed decision making in their jurisdiction, and in the case of research managers, whether the information obtained helped refine their organization's research priorities. Participants were surveyed regarding their further dissemination of the report and ideas to sustain dialogue. In all, twenty-five percent of workshop participants responded.

Workshop effectiveness in decision-making process

Ninety percent of responding policy/program managers found the workshops and the products useful, providing numerous examples of exactly which of their policy or program initiatives were informed. Similarly, ninety percent of responding scientists and research managers reported that the research issues/needs identified through a given workshop had been useful in refining their own organization's research priorities.

Dissemination of workshop knowledge

Participants were asked if they had further distributed workshop products to determine the potential capacity to more broadly inform decision making. Twenty-nine percent of respondents distributed materials to their immediate work group; twenty-four percent to other sections within their departments/organizations; and twelve percent to other departments/organizations. These numbers were higher than expected as no explicit suggestions for distributing the products were given at the workshops.

Dissemination of workshop products: 29% of the audience disseminated workshop products within their work groups, 24% disseminated within their department or organization and 12% disseminated to other departments or organizations

Linking policy to research

Eighty-two percent of all respondents indicated the workshops were successful at linking research and policy. It was noted that the workshops were an excellent start in bringing researchers and decision makers together. Virtually all respondents (ninety-six percent) indicated that sustained dialogue/networking between the groups was important. The majority (sixty-nine percent) suggested a combination of regular electronic contact, with occasional face-to-face meetings as the science warrants, as the main vehicle of sustained dialogue.

Specific responses highlighting the workshops’ role in various attendees’ decision making:

  • “allows us to better deliver on technology transfer to our project partners and disseminate information about new policies/technologies”
  • “will be useful in the development/finalization of our municipal wastewater discharge regulations”
  • “agricultural workshop helped inform development of our best management practices”

Sustained communication and networking was noted as key to ensuring science more routinely and significantly informs decision making and research priorities more effectively reflect policy and program needs. In summary, the sustained interfacing between these two groups was not only desirable but crucial to better bridging the science-policy divide.