Scientists

Policy-Makers

1. Objective facts

1. Subjective Values

2. Proof

2. Beliefs

3. Rational

3. Emotional

4. Measurements

4. Perceptions

5. Incremental Progress

5. Deadlines and Crises

FIGURE 1 Key Differences in Guidance between Policy Makers and Scientists. Bernabo, 1995.


While scientists must judge the quality of their research by its technical strengths, policy-makers must also consider the social acceptability and financial feasibility of a proposed solution to a problem. As a result, scientists can be frustrated when what appears to be the “correct” answer based on scientific values is overlooked for a more politically acceptable solution.


Furthermore, scientific development of useful products and services for water managers requires an understanding of the context in which the products and services will be used. A scientist, whose view is strongly influenced by the boundaries of his own experience, will fail to appreciate the practical needs of a water manager doing business in the “real” world. This disconnect results in a research product that is not useful, and therefore not used, by the water manager.


Most policy-makers, water managers included, operate within a “decision space.” This is the range of realistic options available to a policy-maker or manager to resolve a particular problem. John Letey, Director of the Center for Water Resources at University of California – Riverside sums it up best, “Effective policies must be scientifically valid, economically viable, and socially acceptable” (Letey, 1999). Among their considerations is whether they have the legal authority to initiate a particular action and whether there is sufficient funding to finance the solution to the problem. In addition, water managers in the western United States must develop consensus among all the interested parties before taking any action or risk their actions being challenged in court. Most policy-makers and water managers operate within a highly complex environment constrained by numerous external factors. A successful scientific solution will need to take into consideration each of these external factors.


In order for information to be accepted by a policy-maker and his constituents, it must be credible. Fortunately, good scientific information requires thorough research and documentation which is consistent with the need for credibility. They will want to know who developed the information, why was it developed, did the funder of the research have a particular outcome in mind, and does any contrary research information exist?


It is also important for scientists to think about how accurate and credible the information being produced is compared to how accurate the policy-maker needs it to be in order to be useful. In the context of the type of information produced, how much risk and uncertainty is acceptable to practitioners? Do policy-makers in this area agree on the levels of risk that are acceptable?


And finally, the information must be better than the information available from other sources. It is important for academic researchers to be aware that they are in competition for a decision-



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