Science to policy – reflections on the South African reality

Von der Heyden, Sophie ; Lukey, Peter ; Celliers, Louis ; Prochazka, Kim ; Lombard, Amanda T. (2016)

CITATION: Von Der Heyden, S., et al. 2016. Science to policy – reflections on the South African reality. South African Journal of Science, 112((11/12), Art. #0183, doi:10.17159/sajs.2016/a0183.

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Research is a key resource in a knowledge economy and governance system. In order to enable research to benefit the nation and to contribute to growing the knowledge-based economy (the aims of the Global Change Grand Challenge, and specifically the Society and Sustainability Research Programme), the gap between research, knowledge production and policy and management (i.e. the knowing-doing gap1) needs to be closed, yet closing this gap remains a complex challenge2. This year’s annual SANCOR (South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research) Forum meeting addressed this gap through consultation with a variety of stakeholders from the coastal and marine science community. Our brief was to provide for reflection and discussion on aspects of the science–policy–management interface within South Africa and this commentary provides a summary of the Forum discussions. We detail some current challenges of integrating coastal and marine science into policy and decision- making in South Africa, highlight ‘success stories’ and provide some thoughts on maximising overlap and building a sound science–policy interface. Although couched in the context of marine and coastal sciences, our findings will resonate with other scientific disciplines. Similarly, the challenges in and opportunities for creating constructive dialogue for evidence-based decision-making are not specific to South Africa, so we draw on national, international and collective experience to provide an avenue for doing so. In this commentary we highlight current examples of mismatch between science and policy by focusing on barriers resulting from legislation, politics and a general lack of process for better integration. In particular, we focus on the complexities of evidence-based decision-making at different scales, and how international scientific engagement has helped shape policy in South Africa. We finish by providing some perspectives, directions and examples to help narrow the gap and foster better science–policy integration into the future.

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