Science Policy by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

At the ISSC, we have a commitment to early career researchers, not only giving them a platform to explore international research collaborations, but also to integrating early career researchers in agenda-setting and leadership roles. World Social Science Fellow Laura Pereira blogs about her experience and reflects on the role of science in policy.

I recently returned from my first ever international expert panel, convened by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and hosted in Paris, having been nominated as an early career expert in ecosystem services and human wellbeing by the ISSC.

I was invited to take part in the expert panel for scoping of regional assessments as part of the Africa group. I was extremely excited to be flying to Paris for a week in order to take part in what I hoped to be an invigorating discussion with experts from around the world who were working on similar issues as me. Although I had heard of the IPBES platform before, I was not sure what to expect as the briefing notes had been quite broad. The IPBES is mandated by the member countries and as such, as experts we had been tasked to put together a scoping report for regional ecosystem services as they relate to wellbeing to present at the plenary meeting in January 2015. Whilst I did feel slight trepidation that I might feel out of my depth, I knew that my contributions from more of a social science angle would be of value — and I trusted that the selection committee had chosen me for a reason.

As my first international panel of this kind, the first day proved to be quite an overwhelming experience. I was not quite prepared for the pace of the negotiations, nor for the politicised nature of the “scientific” interventions. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least and just being in the room when the initial opening discussion took place was a steep learning curve. There is so much one can write about the science-policy interface, the need for academia not only to generate knowledge, but at times also to engage actively with the implementation of interventions. Platforms such as IPBES that are mandated by governments in response to international instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, provide an opportunity for academia to have real impact in the policy arena. At the same time, there remains core cultural differences between the policy and academic spheres that requires expert navigation if it is to be an effective collaboration.

Having moved from the plenary discussions into our regional break-out groups, it was finally time for me to earn my due. There were some initial teething issues, but following some less than covert differentiation along age and gender lines, a negotiation space was delineated and we entered into stimulating discussions. By the third day, the tension had settled down and as a group, we started to make real progress towards meeting our still fuzzy agenda. I also started to feel more comfortable in my role and it was at this time that I started to realise what a truly enriching experience my time in Paris was. I got a behind-the-scenes snapshot of how influential science-policy interactions start to take place and I believe that I started to manage my expectations of the process as well as pick up some critical negotiation skills.

At the same time, as an early career scientist, I did feel that I was able to bring some cutting-edge thinking and analysis to the table. Having built up my confidence to engage, I was able to contribute actively to the final report. I believe that it is important to have more early career experts engage in these multi-lateral events. Not only is it a chance to imbue new skills and capacity in the next generation, but we also have new and interesting ideas and approaches to bring to the table. Learning through experience is the best way to start to learn the ropes on how to engage effectively in the science-policy interface. Having made it through my first of such interactions, I look forward to taking up the charge again with my newfound skills and networks.

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