From Science Communication to Knowledge Brokering: the Shift from ‘Science Push’ to ‘Policy Pull’

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Abstract

Traditional (big C) communications in large organizations usually serve to ensure consistent over-arching messaging internally, and to the public at large. To deliver on their public-good mandate, science-based governmental institutions must do more than broadcast the department’s position. They must communicate not only broad policy directions, but also raw data, leading-edge science, general and informed layperson interpretations, and advice for action and behaviour change. Different sectors prefer to receive information and use knowledge in different ways. Science departments must engage with diverse audiences—for example, science users and decision makers, the scientific community, public organizations, and individual citizens—in ways tailored for each audience. This means paying greater attention to the changing contexts in which information is received and used, and consequently the mechanisms and relationships required to produce and transfer scientific information. For policy audiences in particular, the relevance of the science to the issues of the day, and the crucial importance of timing, underline the need for interactive knowledge brokering approaches that can deliver synergistic combinations of ‘science push’ and ‘policy pull’. The authors draw on examples from Environment Canada, as well as from the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Land & Water Australia, to show how dedicated (little c) science and technology communications and knowledge brokering activities are growing in importance. The need for investment in specialized approaches, mechanisms and skill sets for knowledge transfer at the interface of science and policy is also explored, particularly in relation to the field of environmental sustainability.