Policy making and the green transition

by Sir Peter Gluckman
Flags of UN and EU stand in European council Building at Brussels, Belgium.

Sir Peter Gluckman’s speech at the OECD Science Technology and Innovation Ministerial Meeting in Paris.

Democratic policy-making struggles with complex issues that span ministries and time.  These so-called wicked problems that every government faces be it over social change, sustainability or economic development require coordinated and sustained actions over many years from multiple agencies and decision to be made in the face of the short-term focus of many. In all governments coordinating actions and budget proposals across ministries is difficult and the egos of ministers and their agencies is one challenge. The difficulties of achieving bipartisan consensus on long-term issues, in a world of contested and increasingly angry rhetoric, is amplified in democratic processes. The green transition deals with virtually every component of society. A long-term focus can be difficult to sell to publics in the face of the democratic realities which tend to short-term focus.

I have previously pointed to the challenge of climate science that focuses so much on the physical sciences and has ignored psychological and behavioral sciences – how to shift people to longer term thinking, and to understanding tradeoffs and risk. The use of nonpartisan processes such as citizens’ assemblies and sophisticated electronic consultation are emerging as possible solutions. The use of climate change commissions and the like is a recognition that some issues might be best separated from the contestation of the political cycle, but it is not easy.

The research community has itself also tended to be siloed and narrow in its mindsets using linear and narrowly focused research paradigms as the primary approach. The International Science Council has been pushing a new mode of science to be given proper support by funders and governments – namely transdisciplinary research in which multiple disciplines and multiple stakeholders come together to even frame the question and the research approach. The arguments for a major shift in the science system to do so are manifest and the ISC is happy to share its work with interested governments.

The same approach is likely needed in policy making. One green shoot which I am very familiar with is New Zealand’s effort in social policy development, the social investment model – where science advisors, the national data agency, treasury officials and experts in community delivery iteratively challenge and review budget proposals not from one ministry at a time but across multiple related ministries to ensure single coordinated proposals are presented to Cabinet. While it remains to be fully developed and implementation and evaluation domains added and evaluated and multiyear approaches added, it has an obvious parallel to the changing way science addresses wicked problems.

Innovation in science, science advice, and policy making is needed.

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