Connecting Science and Policy at joint COST-JRC seminar


On 28 June 2021, a joint seminar organised by COST and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) explored how to connect the worlds of science and policy and highlighted the different ways in which researchers are trying to achieve policy impact. The online seminar, which attracted over 140 participants, was marked by the testimonies of Prof. Dolores Gavier-Widen, COST Action Chair, who provided insights on how “science for policy” activities are implemented in practice, and Ms Marta Sienkiewicz, JRC Project Officer, who shared advice on achieving policy impact based on lessons learnt outlined in the JRC about the “Science for Policy Handbook”.

Effectively communicating science to policy stakeholders: the “Actions to Actions” policy brief

Dr Ronald de Bruin, Director of COST, opened the seminar by reminding the attendees of the existing collaboration between COST and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service. “Another example of our cooperation with the JRC is the COST Cross-Cutting Activity (CCA) in science communication, which promotes effectively communicating science to policy stakeholders as an essential condition for achieving policy impact. As an active contributor to this network, the JRC brings in invaluable expertise with a science for policy focus”, he explained.

Ms Magda Herbowska, Deputy Head of the Knowledge for Policy Unit at the JRC, also pointed out the existing synergies between COST and the JRC and also explained some of the JRC’s missions: “We aim to efficiently deliver science to politics. To do so, we organise trainings, summer schools and workshops, thus trying to provide a new setting for science”.

Judith Litjens, COST Policy Officer, then presented the “Actions to Actions” policy brief, a practical guide by and for COST Actions on how to achieve policy impact. Published in February, “Actions to Actions” is the first ever COST policy brief based on the information, recommendation, tips and good practices that were shared by former Chairs and Vice Chairs of 10 highly successful COST’s Actions during the “COST Action and Policy Impact” workshop held in November 2020. Today’s joint seminar is the logical follow-up of both these initiatives.

Some of the points made by Judith Litjens are that involving people with good communication skills can make the difference, as well as having participants with different careers behind them. The brief offers guidance to running Actions and covers topics such as effective ways of communicating research findings, when and how to approach stakeholders, or the importance of the timeliness of messaging, to only name a few. “Policy makers are part of the solution”, explained Judith Litjens, “it is crucial to involve them at an early stage and to make them co-creators of the policy impact of your Action”.

How the ASF-STOP COST Action impacted EU and international policy

Then, Prof. Dolores Gavier-Widen, former Action Chair, gave her testimony on how policy impact was achieved by her Action, “Understanding and combating African Swine Fever in Europe (ASF-STOP), of which the ultimate objective was to improve knowledge of the African Swine Fever, a viral haemorrhagic fever of domestic pigs and wild boars in Europe. When asked about the Action’s collaboration with EU and international policy stakeholders, Prof. Gavier-Widen mentioned the participation of ASF-STOP experts in working groups or panels of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  “EFSA is regularly consulted by the Commission in relation to the disease. Because our Action was part of the ASF working groups, we had a voice and opportunity to respond to specific questions and provided recommendations, which were later taken into account for EU legislation”, she said.

Indeed, the ASF-STOP network had a strong impact on EU policy by demonstrating efficient ways of preventing the African Swine Fever’s spreading in wild-boars population. Another example of the network’s impact is the creation of brochures on preventive measures for pig farms, biosecurity for hunters and for travellers, which were published in several languages and distributed in 34 countries.

The key word is communication. Very good but unpublished or not-well communicated science will have little or no impact. (…) Bringing all these scientists together with policy stakeholders creates great opportunities for policy impact. So, it is very important to organize events that bring all together. And the more dissemination the higher the chance of increasing impact (…)”, Prof. Gavier-Widen concluded

Bringing science to the attention of policymakers

The Joint Research Centre (JRC)’s mission is to bring science and knowledge to EU policymaking and to increase the impact of research on European policies. As one the editor of the “Science for Policy” handbook, Ms Marta Sienkiewicz presented this comprehensive document which puts together advice on new skills and practices and presents lessons learnt over the past few years. She gave in a nutshell the 5 main principles necessary to achieve efficient policy impact:

  • Make sure to recruit team members with a diversity of skills as this will make it easier to communicate your results
  • Consider the Science for Policy process as a team sport: it is extremely important to involve stakeholders, citizens and policy makers from an early stage. “Cocreation really helps to understand the needs and questions of potential users of the knowledge you are bringing to the table”, she explained
  • Take a step back and look at the wider picture of your research
  • Become a critical friend: the complexity of policymaking requires investing in strong relationships with policymakers. “Having good relations gives you the opportunity to present your research in a friendly, informal context and to better understand how processes work in policy”.
  • Speak-up in the policy debate to increase your visibility and to show your research in the policy environment.

The seminar allowed for a lively and interesting exchange and the insightful and educational input shared by the panellists and attendees will help shape future COST science for policy activities.