Formalization and separation: A systematic basis for interpreting approaches to summarizing science for climate policy

Göran Sundqvist, Ingemar Bohlin, Erlend A.T. Hermansen, Steven Yearley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In studies of environmental issues, the question of how to establish a productive interplay between science and policy is widely debated, especially in relation to climate change. The aim of this paper is to advance this discussion and contribute to a better understanding of how science is summarized for policy purposes by bringing together two academic discussions that usually take place in parallel: the question of how to deal with formalization (structuring the procedures for assessing and summarizing research, e.g. by protocols) and separation (maintaining a boundary between science and policy in processes of synthesizing science for policy). Combining the two dimensions, we draw a diagram onto which different initiatives can be mapped. A high degree of formalization and separation are key components of the canonical image of scientific practice. Influential Science and Technology Studies (STS) analysts, however, are well known for their critiques of attempts at separation and formalization. Three examples that summarize research for policy purposes are presented and mapped onto the diagram: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the European Union’s Science for Environment Policy (SfEP) initiative, and the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC). These examples bring out salient differences concerning how formalization and separation are dealt with. Discussing the space opened up by the diagram, as well as the limitations of the attraction to its endpoints, we argue that policy analyses, including much STS work, are in need of a more nuanced understanding of the two crucial dimensions of formalization and separation. Accordingly, two analytical claims are presented, concerning trajectories, how organizations represented in the diagram move over time, and mismatches, how organizations fail to handle the two dimensions well in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)416-440
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number3
Early online date25 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • science and policy
  • formalization
  • separation
  • use of scientific knowledge
  • climate policy


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