Science Engagement

Science, Policy Engagement, and Science-based Advocacy

Considerable debate continues on the extent to which scientist ought to engage in public policy processes. However, little research has addressed what influences individual scientists’ decisions regarding whether and how to engage. The purpose of this research project is to improve understanding of the factors (e.g., attitudes, beliefs, institutional structures, training, time allocation, incentives) that are associated with researchers and managers engaging or not engaging with public policy.

Numerous ‘calls to action’ have been directed at the scientific community, encouraging engagement in efforts to address pressing environmental problems. Yet many scientists perceive a wide gulf between what is known about environmental science and how it is applied in policy development and on-the-ground management of land and natural resources. In seeking to understand how scientists navigate the relationship between science, policy, and advocacy, we hope to provide new insights that will help individual scientists, and the community in general, navigate this difficult set of issues and engage appropriately in policy, where their knowledge is desperately needed.

Research Questions:

  • What prevents or diminishes environmental scientists, and related research and management professionals, from engaging in public policy deliberation?
  • What institutional, social and other factors are associated with high levels of public policy engagement among this group?
  • What are the most common roles that members of this group play in public policy?
  • How do opinions on the proper role of scientists in society influence types of public policy engagement?


We developed a questionnaire that was distributed at select professional meetings of environmental scientists and managers, to address these and related research questions. Questions covered demographics of the respondent, the type of research they conduct, how the respondent engages in public policy, her/his opinions on the role of science and scientists in society, and the factors that influences their engagement in policy.


This research provides a snapshot on the level of engagement of the scientific community in public policy development, and it identifies various influences on respondents’ decisions about when, how, and how often to engage. It also provides new insights regarding how to overcome barriers to communication and understanding, and encourage the appropriate participation of scientists in efforts to bridge the divide that many perceive between the practice of science and the development of appropriate and effective environmental policy.

Our research team includes CHANS Lab researchers Kai Chan, Sarah Klain, Megan Mach, Rebecca Martone, Gerald Singh, and Jordan Tam, and Tom Sisk, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at Northern Arizona University.

Now available at:

Gerald G Singh, Jordan Tam, Thomas D Sisk, Sarah C Klain, Megan E Mach, Rebecca G Martone, and Kai MA Chan 2014. A more social science: barriers and incentives for scientists engaging in policy. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (e-View)

This project was funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (Leaders Opportunity Fund), The Nature Conservancy, and the College for Interdisciplinary Studies. As well as additional student funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions for financial support.

New survey with the Global Young Academy: see here.