Knowledge Exchange and Science Policy

Understanding what constitutes effective knowledge exchange at the environmental science-policy interface

Partners: Dalhousie University (Dr. Philippe Mongeon and Dr. Anika Cloutier), Carleton University (Dr. Matt Falconer and Dr. Vivian Nguyen), University of New Brunswick (Dr. Deepa Pureswaran), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), Boreal Avian Modelling Project (BAM), Mitacs, Evidence for Democracy (E4D)

ISSUE. Decision-makers responsible for managing natural resources, including forests, must choose between often-competing alternatives with high-level of risk. They require accurate and timely scientific information to ensure their decisions about policy and practice are informed by the best evidence available. There is a well-identified ‘science-policy gap’ (or ‘knowledge-implementation gap’), whereby scientific knowledge is unused or underused in policy and management decisions. There have been many calls from experts to find strategies to close this gap, and the urgency to do so is rising given the extremity of environmental challenges faced in Canada and globally. However, almost all past research has focused on barriers to knowledge exchange across the science-policy gap rather than tangible solutions to close the gap.

RESEARCH. Working in research clusters, each partner will be engaged alongside the academic team and highly-qualified personnel to co-produce research on effective strategies to overcome a particular element of the gap between forest science and its implementation in management and practice. Specifically, research clusters will: (1) characterize how scholarly publications about forest science are reflected in publicly-available policy, news, and social media, and identify whether there are features, keywords, or subject areas that support greater uptake of forest science knowledge in these public venues; (2) survey and interview practitioners and decision-makers in forestry about how they obtain scientific knowledge and their preferences for engaging in knowledge exchange; (3) conduct an experiment to disseminate an environmental academic work product through different communications tools (e.g. paper, brief, infographic) to decision-makers, and follow up to assess their understanding, retention, and use of the information; and (4) investigate the impact of the unique Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship (CSPF) in fostering effective knowledge exchange by placing PhD holders in policy roles.

Funder: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant (PDG)

Characterizing how knowledge exchange is done in forest science

Partners: Carleton University (Dr. Vivan Nguyen) and Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service (Dr. Matthew Falconer).

When it comes to ensuring that the best-available scientific knowledge is reflected in policy and practice, knowledge exchange must occur between knowledge producers and knowledge users. But how does this work, in practice? Through this project, which focuses on forest science, we ask: What kinds of words are used by researchers and practitioners in this space to describe their activities? Are there particular knowledge exchange approaches (e.g. coproduction, creation of knowledge of networks) that tend to be used more often than others? Is there any evidence that certain approaches are more effective than others?

By conducting a systematic literature review and interviewing knowledge exchange specialists, we aim to characterize the landscape of knowledge exchange about forest science in Canada. For a 5-minute video overview of this research, see our prize-winning digital poster for the International Network of Government Science Advisors 2021 conference. This project is also covered in a public blog by the Atlantic Forest Research Collaborative, the Carleton News, and also see this presentation of preliminary results from the Canadian Forest Service e-lecture series. You can also download our Stage 1 article in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence and read our technical report. Subscribe to project updates on ResearchGate!

Funder: SSHRC

Improving the scientific basis of species at risk laws in Canada

Partners: Multiple universities & non-profits.

Although Canada has a federal law that aims to protect species at risk, thousands of species continue to decline. Even when species do ‘recover’ by the legal definition, the concept of ‘recovery’ is not usually properly conceptualized and these species may continue to be vulnerable. Experts in the ecology, biology, law, and policy of species at risk joined together to propose a more effective species at risk law for the province of British Columbia that relies on scientific evidence, accountability, and an inclusive approach. Find out more at the Scientists 4 Species page.

Funder: Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Improving the scientific basis of impact assessment laws in Canada

Partners: University of Calgary (Dr. Jennifer Winter), Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Dr. Aerin Jacob), Northern Confluence Initiative (Nikki Skuce), and others.

Impact assessment is a process by which proposed major projects, policies, and programs are evaluated for their potential environmental, social, and health impacts before they are approved. In Canada, these laws have been hotly debated, and many argue that these laws do not sufficiently take into account risks to the environment and communities.

Parties across the social spectrum agree on one thing: that impact assessment laws should be based on strong science. When Canada was developing the Impact Assessment Act (2019), a consortium of experts joined together to make recommendations and testify to Parliament and Senate (see the full timeline from Dr. Aerin Jacob), and published a paper proposing principles for strong science in impact assessment law.

However, challenges remain. With regards to the impacts of mining projects that go through impact assessment in British Columbia, we discovered a provincial loophole that can allow development projects to expand over time without meeting standards of public and scientific scrutiny. This may be part of a broader potential pattern that undermines the integrity of impact assessment laws across the country.

Since the federal Impact Assessment Act now evaluates projects as to whether they are ‘in the public interest’, ongoing work is investigating what this might mean and how this test is used in other laws and policies.

In addition, Dr. Westwood works with students in the graduate-level Environmental Assessment course at Dalhousie University to provide input on impact assessment processes, such as the one for Valentine Gold mine in Newfoundland, the Beaver Dam gold mine in Nova Scotia, and the James Bay Lithium Mine in Québec.

Funders: Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, SSHRC, Wilburforce Foundation