Pacific Fisheries Coalition




  pacific fisheries coalition Scientists Can Make a Difference
by Linda M. B. Paul

This is an excerpt from Paul, Linda. 1997. A Policy Role for PACON in Sustainable Marine Resource Development. In Recent Advances in Marine Science and Technology. Proceedings of the 1996 PACON International Conference, Honolulu.


  1. It is important that scientists, engineers and technical people provide their expertise to policy makers. In doing so, remember to speak and write in plain language when explaining technical and scientific concepts to policy makers. It also helps to explain the short and long term implications of what you are saying and to check to make sure you are being understood. Laws must be drafted into language that will convey the same meaning to everyone and do what they are intended to do. Joan Bondareff, counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries in 1991, once remarked that "policymakers are not good listeners and the scientists are not good speakers to the policy issues" and recommended promoting a dialogue between the two.
  2. To create an opportunity to educate and inform, offer to translate technical and scientific issues for policy makers. A particularly needy area is the lack of volunteer panels of experts available to review environmental impact statements and assessments for both governmental agencies and non governmental organizations. Policy makers need and rely on experts, yet all too frequently rely on people who merely pass themselves off as experts. It is also important to clarify for policy makers how you can be most effective as experts, i.e. the need for regulatory and monetary support for research, and assurances that you will not be exploited in the policy-making process.
  3. If you feel strongly about the need for a particular law or regulation, draft the law or regulation yourself and find a legislator or agency head who will introduce it. Many laws and regulations are initially drafted by or at the request of special interest groups. Better the experts do it than the non experts. It is not necessary to draft it in legalese; it will almost always be redrafted as it goes through the hearing process anyway. As a rule of thumb non-binding resolutions and laws and regulations that don't cost much have better chances of being enacted.
  4. If a certain issue is not important it is generally better strategy to compromise. It is also a good idea to present needed changes in small increments if there is significant opposition. Sometimes it just takes time and education for someone to get used to an idea, and new policy implementation in the face of emotional or uninformed resistance is easier to accomplish if it is done in small steps.
  5. If long-term coastal zone planning is ever going to happen, it is important that the scientific community make the effort to do some lobbying. Compile and make available studies and draft reports that project where unplanned coastal zone development is headed and what it means in terms of degradation of coastal resources and the long-term costs to the public. Write legislative testimony and op-ed pieces; call, write, fax and e-mail policy makers; make appointments and meet with them and their staff; and don't forget that briefing the media can help educate voters.
  6. The formation of public/private task forces will often help solve specific problems by helping groups with a stake in the outcome feel an ownership in the solution and an interest in enforcing it. Meetings facilitated by experts in communication, collaboration, and process-building can also assist participants to effectively communicate and coordinate their efforts toward mutually-understood common goals.
  7. It is a good idea to include experts from other disciplines as members of your professional organizations. They can be very helpful in the development of practical methodologies that policy makers can use to incorporate scientific input into their decision-making processes at all levels.
  8. Seminars, workshops, public forums, and field trips are particularly good ways to inform and educate the policy-making and user communities. Policy-making bodies should also be provided with reference sources that indicate where information can be found on particular subjects, what information is not available, but needs to be, and the means by which the missing information can be obtained, including needed legislation, cooperative agreements, and research and data base funding. Impress upon policy makers that good scientific and technical information can make tough decisions easier and will improve the substantive decision-making process. Suggest that scientific and technically trained people be included on the legislative staff.

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