Recommendation: Care is required to make sure that the burden on the scientific community is proportional to the aggregate public benefits provided by an assessment. Alternative modes of participation or changes to the assessment process—such as limiting material included in regularly scheduled assessments or running “nested” or phased multiscale assessments—should be considered. As appropriate, U.S. assessments should acknowledge the work of the international community and avoid redundant efforts.
A frequent criticism of assessments is that the information is not delivered at the timescale required for the decision-making process. It is critical that a realistic time line be laid out at the design stage with regard to the products of the assessment. Once the schedule is set, expectations need to be managed and met if the credibility of the process is to be maintained. This requires a delicate balancing of the needs of the decision-making community with the knowledge and resources available.
For example, a major criticism of the NACCI was that the assessment effort was late in responding to its congressional mandate. This resulted in the near-simultaneous development of climate scenarios, team guidance, regional and sector team efforts, and synthesis. Perhaps even more problematic was the fact that a change in administration coincided with the release of the report. With this change, the original salience of the report was lost and major legitimacy issues were raised.
The German Enquete Kommission produces assessments that tend to meet the time requirements of decision making by including policy makers and scientists in the ongoing process. Therefore, policy makers benefit from the latest information at the time it becomes available. Indeed the stated rationale for composing investigation committees with both policy makers and scientists or practitioners is that scientific findings can be integrated much more rapidly and comprehensively into parliamentary deliberations. At risk, however, is credibility because scientific discussion within the committee involves individuals from different political parties who may or may not have a scientific background. This can make reaching agreement problematic and may require political compromise.
Assessments such as the IPCC are conducted periodically, thereby offering an opportunity to provide a summary of the state of knowledge at regular intervals. Although this ensures a steady updating of information as mentioned above, it tends to be resource intensive and has led some to question whether such assessments should take place at fixed intervals or instead be driven by the rate of change in the underlying knowledge base. Because of the efficiency issues described in the previous section, the rate at