Advancing Inclusive Science-Policy-Society Interfaces in Ocean Governance

Ocean Voices Research Associate, Christine Gaebel, shares her reflections from the International Symposium on Strengthening the Ocean Science-Policy Interface.

There is a growing recognition that connecting science and other knowledge with ocean governance is both fundamental and challenging in equal parts. Recognising this conundrum, the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) and UNESCO collaboratively convened a symposium on science-policy interfaces for ocean governance at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in December 2023. This event brought together a diverse group of over 200 participants from various corners of the globe, including academics, government officials, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, and more. Over the course of the two-day symposium, panel discussions and presentations delved into the pressing challenges and opportunities faced at the nexus between science and decision-making, particularly in relation to the World Ocean Assessment and the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

Christine Gaebel at the International Symposium on Strengthening the Ocean Science-Policy Interface
Christine Gaebel at the International Symposium on Strengthening the Ocean Science-Policy Interface

At this symposium, I was honoured to speak as a panellist - an opportunity which I used to emphasise the critical need for ensuring meaningful participation of diverse voices in science-policy processes. Across the two days’ presentations, panels, and discussions, participants shared their perspectives on the challenges faced regionally and globally, but also shared success stories, and opportunities to transform and improve the science-policy nexus. From these discussions, three overarching messages resonated:   

1. Fostering inclusive and equitable science-policy-society interfaces:

The call for inclusivity resonated strongly across the two-day symposium, underscoring the importance of involving communities in shaping policies that impact the ocean and society. During my panel, I stressed the value of incorporating diverse disciplines and actors in science-policy processes and advocated moving beyond science-policy interfaces and towards science-policy-society interfaces which enable multi-directional knowledge exchange, not just between scientists and policymakers, but also with other stakeholders such as communities. The inclusion of diverse actors can bridge local, regional, and international actions, ensuring that the voices of those who are most adversely impacted by ecosystem change are at the forefront of discussions. Moreover, across the symposium, there was a collective recognition that addressing the interconnected and complex challenges faced today requires input from a wide array of stakeholders beyond the traditional realms of scientists and policymakers.  

2. Widening the scope of capacity development endeavours:

While the drive for inclusive and well-functioning science-policy interfaces was evident, regional perspectives shared by participants demonstrated global disparities in science-policy-society capacities in practice. Similar to the varying levels of scientific capabilities required to actively and fully engage in marine scientific research, there exists a spectrum of science-policy capacities. This realisation underscores the need to nurture, support, and fund initiatives which are aimed at enhancing science-policy-society capacity and which enable diverse actors to meaningfully participate in governance processes. Lessons learned from regional and global experiences showed that this necessitates investment, both time and financial, and individual and political will, as well as earnest reflection on current capacity development endeavours in order to include a wider range of training and development opportunities.   

3. Global tools to support and drive transformative change:

Lastly, at the symposium’s core, was the acknowledgement of the pivotal role played by science-policy-society interfaces in global processes such as the Ocean Decade and the World Ocean Assessment, as well as the opportunities that these processes offer. Participants discussed how these global initiatives provide a framework that can be harnessed to promote collaboration and coherence in addressing the complex and multi-faceted challenges facing the global ocean and can act as catalysts for fostering inclusive science-policy-society networks. However, realising these possibilities requires earnest reflection on how science-policy-society interfaces are currently operating, as well as enabling tools to strengthen diverse participation.    

Ultimately, I left Paris feeling inspired and optimistic about the future of ocean governance. While it was evident that more needs to be done to operationalise effective and inclusive science-policy-society interfaces, there was a clear appetite for transformative change to do so. Indeed, this event not only showcased a drive for collaboration, but also a shared commitment to steering ocean governance towards inclusivity and equity. 

International Symposium of the United Nations Regular Process on strengthening the ocean science-policy interface
International Symposium of the United Nations Regular Process on strengthening the ocean science-policy interface

Author: Christine Gaebel

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