Consequently, we see bridging the gap as a critical research problem. We propose a systematic research program, building on work already done in the field (Fischhoff and Furby, 1983; Fischhoff, Svenson, and Slovic, 1987; Rubin, Lave, and Morgan, 1992), to help ensure that relevant environmental science is conducted and that its results are provided to decision makers in usable form.
Aspects of these problems recur in all decisional domains in which large, semiautonomous research programs have developed around major policy issues (e.g., AIDS, health care reform). Global change, however, presents an extreme degree of complexity and uncertainty. Not only is the relevant scientific knowledge imperfect, but also a considerable effort is needed to assess the extent of its uncertainty. Moreover, it is characterized by well-publicized disagreements among specialists, whose respective credibility is difficult for decision makers to judge. In such a situation, special efforts are needed to enhance mutual understanding between the producers of knowledge about global change and the consumers of that knowledge. Better communication will guide scientists toward producing more useful knowledge and decision makers toward making better use of what is produced.
We do not believe that effective communication will occur merely as a result of exhortation to try harder and a commitment to doing so. But systematic research using methods from decision theory and related fields can help by specifying the sources of communication failures and offering methods for bridging the gap (Raiffa, 1968; von Winterfeldt and Edwards, 1986). We propose a research program to improve global change decision making by building on systematic analyses of particular decisions and decision contexts. The research program would include both formal and descriptive analyses and would require the participation of all the social and natural sciences needed to characterize particular decisions, as well as representatives of the decision makers.
Research would begin from the recognition that a body of scientific knowledge may be relevant to decision makers operating at quite different levels. For example, decision makers who need answers to questions about the potential for coastal zone flooding include homeowners, municipal officials, managers of Superfund sites in coastal zones, developers, local citizens' groups, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, and flood insurance providers. These decision makers will vary in what issues interest them and what level of detail they need. Estimates of sea level rise and storm surges will be particularly relevant to decision makers with long time horizons, such as regional planners, investors in long-lived capital equipment, and insurers. In order to be useful to such a range of actors, scientific knowledge needs to be developed and delivered with their specific decisions in mind.
Analyses of decision needs will typically show that for some decisions existing environmental science is relevant, whereas for others it is not; that scientific knowledge that is relevant today may not be relevant later (and vice versa);