Angel Saz-Carranza, Marie Vandendriessche, Alison Courtney
Conclusion 1: The need for science in public policy
Science introduces rationality into the public policymaking cycle.
All speakers on the panel were technical experts with strong, specialized knowledge on the scientific foundations of their field of study. They were thus able to provide policy-makers with concrete and indispensable information, both on their academic research fields and research cooperation in their fields.
Specific examples of how scientific data and research can improve public policy included:
Shatanawi (Jordan) and Rabi (Palestine) engaged in a conversation on possible technical solutions to the Dead Sea’s ongoing evaporation.
Shatanawi illustrated the critical energy-water nexus, arguing that energy produced through hydropower could in turn be used to provide drinking water, by powering the desalination plants which will become ever more necessary in the future, as the effects of climate change become apparent in the region.
Candela (Spain) underscored the need for specific cost-benefit analysis and financial sustainability in water projects, to guarantee their execution and survival.
Ghaddar (Lebanon) promoted out-of-the-box thinking to develop alternative solutions to address the modern-day and future challenge of global warming, including localized cooling systems, bioclimatic planning for outdoor thermal comfort, and the use of solar energy to power cooling and dehumidification solutions.
Al-Naseri (Iraq) provided a detailed diagnostic (rationally the first step in any policy-making process) of the water situation in Iraq, and highlighted the need to improve the energy efficiency of desalinization and water treatment processes.
From the audience, Woertz (Germany) raised the issue of complex interactions, for example, the behavioral and scientific research that has found that raising efficiency can drive consumption up (Jevons Paradox, or the rebound effect).
In short, scientific research and knowledge must be taken into account when designing policies, thereby introducing rationality into policymaking, which was also mentioned by Octavi Quintana-Trias (EC) in the previous panel.
However, as Ghaddar remarked, in order to create a mutually beneficial relation between science and politics, there is a stark need for trust between the two parties (as was also mentioned by Javier Solana in his key note speech). Science must trust politics and vice-versa. This requires enhanced transparency and openness in governance.
Recommendation 1: Foster dialogue between scientists and policymakers in order to increase the rationality of public policy.
Recommendation 2: In order to maximize the effectiveness and the scope of the science-policy dialogue, trust between scientists and policymakers is critical. Trust can be built and grown by improving the transparency of governance and its processes.
Conclusion 2: Adapt to the context. Develop appropriate technology & capacity-building
A key conclusion is that technological solutions are not automatically appropriate in different contexts, and that new technologies require specific capacity-building. Rabi, speaking from the Palestinian context, strongly advocated for the latter.
While Al-Naseri strongly supported science and technology to solve the main water issues confronting the region, Ghaddar complemented his remarks by underscoring that one-size-fits-all does apply in this case: confronted with climate change for example, some countries have gone nuclear, others are going solar.
Candela called for transposing, with the necessary adaptation to the local context, technologies which had proven successful in foreign settings. Spain’s experience during the past decades could be a guiding example, where scientists were trained abroad, then returned and adapted learnings to local context.
Asl-Soleimani (Iran) argued that there are critical problems with local engagement and knowledge: many programs are started; then abandoned because of lack of knowledge. He proposed, on the one hand, that it was necessary to improve knowledge of research and science so that people understand their usefulness for their daily lives.
On the other hand, and again speaking from the Iranian context, with which no formal and consistent research cooperation frameworks have existed up to now, Asl-Soleimani suggested that scientific cross-border cooperation should attempt to generate the necessary local institutions capable of producing locally appropriate technologies. In other words, he believed research funding should be used to set up practical or theoretical institutions in the destination countries in order to define research needs, develop new research and cooperation, and assist in determining the optimal distribution of research funds at the local level.
Recommendation 3: Ensure policies supporting science and research are adapted to local contexts, making sure to explore issue linkages when designing these policies.
Recommendation 4: Focus on local capacity-building, both (a) for the implementation of new technologies and (b) to determine local needs in terms of research funding and priorities.
Conclusion 3: Include input from non-governmental stakeholders to improve effectiveness, implementation and reach
Many panelists pointed out that involving all stakeholders in research planning was key in ensuring effectiveness; it is an important step in generating broad support along the full research life cycle. Involving businesses, civil stakeholders, and end users, particularly, was pointed out as a critical element. As such, several interesting points were put forward.
Candela suggested that strategic research plans involve stakeholders and users, and pointed out that in Spain, research funding is conditional on the involvement of all stakeholders, including users, in the project proposal phase.
Regarding business, a comment from the floor underscored that many technically viable solutions are hampered by the obstructing efforts of incumbent market players. Rabi thus replied that precisely because of this, business must be taken into account as a key stakeholder.
Ghaddar also pointed to the critical role of stakeholders in both research and education, suggesting to create alliances between hard sciences and humanities in order for the former to speak the language of the people. This may also help attract young talent, as well as improving research dissemination and communication.
Asl-Soleimani explained that this also applies in Iran, remarking that the mass emigration of scientists is in part due to the current governance, which has led to a clear lack of research facilities at home. In this context, he repeated the call for dialogue between scientists and policymakers to address this situation.
Lastly, again from the floor, Bogliotti proposed the idea that perhaps some sort of permanent platform or institution on water in the Mediterranean region could be set up, including all stakeholders, including governments and research institutions, in order to (a) advocate for change, including at the political level, and (b) substantiate and implement the solutions currently available rather than creating yet another shopping list of demands.
A comment from the floor underscored that a great deal of research has been carried out in the region, including on STI cooperation. However, there has been very little progress in implementation. One proposal is therefore to pause new research for one year, and simply implement existing research. This exercise will aid in identifying, among the countries of the region, the elements that are missing in order to reach the critical implementation phase.
Recommendation 5: Link businesses, technology, and research challenges: include all stakeholders – including businesses and end users – in research planning in order to ensure effectiveness of research outcomes and improve their chances of implementation.
Recommendation 6: Creating links between hard sciences and humanities and improving communication on research can both extend the reach of research outcomes and help to attract young talent to research fields.
Recommendation 7: Focus on implementing existing research outcomes first and identifying bottlenecks in implementation rather than embarking on new research funding and endeavors.