Assessments in Policy-Making: Case Studies From The Arctic Council

Global and regional assessments, primarily environmental, have become increasingly common elements in international, national and even local policy and decision making (Clark, Mitchell, & Cash 2006). As large-scale environmental problems and their consequences cross borders and know no jurisdictional limits, addressing them requires cooperation among countries, interaction between scientists and policy makers, and inclusion of actors from all levels of the scale, from the local to the global (Ostrom 1990; Young 2002). One form of responding to these challenges has become assessments as organized efforts to harness scientific information to inform policy makers both from private and public sectors at all stages of decision-making. The increasing role of assessments has had its roots in a view that better and more widely shared information can add to more effective management of complex, transnational interactions between humans and nature (Clark et al. 2006).

As examples from the environmental domain have proven, actors from all sides of the stage have an interest in the effective conduct of assessments, from scientists and practitioners willing to contribute their efforts to increase knowledge and improvement of existing policies (Bolin 1994) to decision makers in business and governments looking for scientific data and analysis as a basis for their decisions and pursuit of their policies (Bronk 1994; Carnegie Commisson on Science 1994). In addition, the reasoning behind assessments supposes that a better understanding of impacts of human actions, decisions and behaviours, presented with options for alleviation of these impacts, can provide incentives for political, social and economic decision makers to carry out their policies in a more sustainable way (Clark et al. 2006). Therefore, the number and importance of assessments is expected to increase even further in the future along with greater demands put on natural resources by the growing population and effects of industrialization and globalization, thus calling for concerted actions based on sound and scientifically grounded information to mitigate negative effects of these developments.

The assessments are often viewed through products they deliver, frequently in the form of a report or publication. However, they can be better understood as social processes, embedded in particular institutional settings, within which expert knowledge related to a policy problem is framed, integrated, interpreted, and presented in documents to inform decision making (A. E. Farrell & Jäger 2006; A. Farrell, VanDeveer, & Jäger 2001). Assessments constitute communication channels to bridge the gap between scientists and policy makers and are a key interface between science and policy (National Research Council 2007). As such they may influence the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policy, hence they are also of interest to business, nongovernmental organizations, regulatory offices etc. (Miller 2006). Yet, assessments may vary to a great extent in what type of influence they exert and the degree to which they affect the policy sphere. Therefore it is not enough to look at the scientific output of the assessment - to evaluate its effectiveness one has to look at the entire process which led to production/collection of research results, both the scientific and political context in which it was carried out, and understand which design features of the process can inhibit or strengthen the assessment’s influence.

The aim of this report is to shed more light on the influence of assessments in policy-making. The report consists of two parts. The first one defines the main concepts related to assessments and distinguishes between their various types. It outlines their characteristics and frameworks for their evaluation, followed by the assessments’ potential contributions to decision-making and conditions increasing their effectiveness. The second part focuses on the Arctic Council (AC), its role in the knowledge production and the assessment activities conducted under its auspices, with a particular focus on the recent ones: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), Arctic Resilience Report (ARR), Arctic Human Development Report-II (AHDR-II), and Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic (AACA). On the basis of a designed template the authors of the report seek to evaluate the potential influence of the abovementioned activities, but foremost to provide the reader with a set of tools for deepened understanding not only for the current, but also for the future AC assessments. This report, produced within the framework of the project on Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment of Development of the Arctic, aims to contribute to expertise gathered within the EU on the topic of impact assessments (Berger 2007) and enhance awareness among EU policy-makers of related developments in the Arctic Council realm.


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