“It is difficult to make decisions between the roaring of the crowd and the whisper of the scientist”. This statement from Mr. Thomas Peter of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), might well sum up a key challenge faced by practitioners and policy-makers when responding to disasters - challenge that was addressed head-on by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) at the Evidence for Policy School on Disaster Risk Management, which took place on 13-15 January 2020 in Florence, Italy.
In a world flooded with information from a multitude of sources, collecting, managing, making sense of and communicating knowledge (or evidence) is highly challenging. With scientific controversies, post-fact politics and societal challenges to the use of evidence in public policy, evidence-informed policy-making needs advocates and skilled practitioners, both in scientific and policy bodies. This applies none more so than in the field of disaster risk management (DRM) - a key strategic area for the future of Europe.
The aim of the 2020 Evidence for Policy School - which was organised by the JRC (within the framework of the Commission’s Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre or DRMKC) and the Commission’s Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO), in collaboration with the Italian Civil Protection Department, the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) and the University of Florence (UNIFI) - was to help researchers in DRM to have more impact, and to support DRM policy-makers in translating evidence into policy solutions.
The event gathered 71 mid-career scientists, policy-makers and practitioners involved in DRM, from 22 countries. Over the three days, each participant attended five of the nine organised interactive “Master Classes” that were conducted by top facilitators from national authorities (Italy, Greece), local authorities (Caicais in Portugal), Climate-KIC (the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s knowledge and innovation community addressing climate change), BBC Climate Action, universities, the United Nations and the European Commission.
As stated by Charlina Vicheva, acting Director General of the JRC, in her opening speech: “We have to increasingly engage with citizens… to bridge the gap between what we as policy-makers, practitioners and scientists think, and what the citizens think. The DRMKC is the embodiment of the partnership approach to the science-policy interface”. Johannes Luchner, Director of “Emergency Management and rescEU” at DG ECHO, added: "We need the knowledge broker that can transmit the knowledge between scientists and policy-makers. Because let's be honest: policy-makers do not have time to search for the knowledge - and the scientists do not have time to explain".
Jaroslav Mysiak, Director of “Risk assessment and adaptation strategies” at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change (CMCC), concluded: "What unites us is the accountability: Scientists are accountable for the knowledge they produce and on the policy side, it is simply no longer acceptable that some communities do not have a risk assessment."
Agostino Miozzo, Director at the Italian Civil Protection Department, therefore challenged participants to cross the “last mile between developing solutions and applying them in practice”. Alessandra Zampieri, Head of the Disaster Risk Management Unit at the JRC, moderated a high-level panel that set the scene for the 2020 Evidence for Policy School.
With classes tackling proactive and reactive disaster management, links with climate change, operational scientific support, liability and ethics, communications and visualisation, a broad set of topics and skills were taught. The interaction of participants in the Master Classes brought about a collision of expertise, sparking enriching conversations, quick learning, and original framings of complex and “wicked” problems. Ranging from philosophical and theoretical thinking to practical training on tools, simulations and exercises, hands-on work and team challenges, the Master Class facilitators and expert students created a unique learning environment.
The main outcomes of the 2020 Evidence for Policy School are summarised below:
1. Increased awareness amongst participants about DRM actors, the risk landscape in Europe and globally, and the important role of science: This outcome is fully in line with the objectives of the Knowledge Network of DG ECHO, and directly contributes to article 3, paragraph 1 (e) of the EU’s Union Civil Protection Mechanism legislation (as amended by Decision No. 2019/420): “to increase the availability and use of scientific knowledge on disasters”.
2. Learning of skills for the science-policy interface, such as risk communication, visual communication, briefings for high level elected officials or crisis management meetings, as well as participatory processes at local level: This outcome is in line with the ambition of the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen - and the mandate of the European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič - to strengthen our culture of evidence-based policymaking.
3. A new network of ambassadors for science for policy: Many participants presented their thoughts on how they will promote science for policy in their own organisations, and help their colleagues to use more science in policymaking, breaking down silos or bridging the gap between scientific disciplines, practitioners and policymakers at local, national and EU level.
In conclusion, the 2020 Evidence for Policy School represented the first occasion that such an event - focusing on the interface between science, policy, and practice - was held in the DRM sector, further confirming the DRMKC as a cornerstone for the science-policy interface in Europe. Given the positive feedback, look for similar events in the future!
Tom De Groeve, Lene Topp and Marzia Santini
European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) (M. Santini - formerly Italian Civil Protection Department / Seconded National Expert at JRC)
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CAPTION FOR FIGURE: [ Participants at the 2020 Evidence for Policy School on Disaster Risk Management, in Florence, Italy. © European Commission, 2020. ]