Design of science-policy interface

Head: Dr. Martin Kowarsch

The "Scientific Assessments, Ethics, and Public Policy" (SEP) working group analyzes scientific assessments and other tools at the science-policy interface and aims to improve their practice and design. Our research focuses particularly on the appropriate treatment of ethical issues and multiple stakes in integrated, environment-related policy assessments.


Team members

Markus Dressel (Fellow in Apr 2017)

Jennifer Garard (PhD Researcher)

Olan Thomas Harrington (Fellow in 2016)

Larissa Koch (Researcher)

Dr. Dominic Lenzi (Post-doc)



The definition of complex public policy problems (such as climate change) and the identification of suitable solution options are often disputed on both scientific and normative-ethical grounds in the (mostly short term-oriented) policy debates. Scientific policy "advice" on such complex policy issues therefore frequently fails to achieve scientific credibility, high policy-relevance and legitimacy simultaneously. Facts and values are highly entangled and intermingled; they cannot be completely separated from one another (an example are the normative assumptions in agro-economic models of water management options). In light of this, well-designed science-policy interfaces are needed for the highly disputed and complex, longer-term policy issues: large-scale, interdisciplinary-integrated scientific assessment processes.

According to our "pragmatic-enlightened model," such assessments should explore alternative policy pathways and their diverse implications jointly with stakeholders in an iterative manner (rather than prescribing policy decisions). In this way, assessments can be valuable and legitimate tools for a science-policy dialogue and learning process, because they can address both the interdependency of complex policy issues (think of, e.g., synergies and trade-offs between different Sustainable Development Goals) and their often disputed normative dimensions in a relatively successful and comprehensive manner. This could serve deliberative and participative public policy-making.

Enabling such integrated assessments, however, also requires sufficiently interdisciplinary and highly integrated ethical studies on policy issues (see Kowarsch and Edenhofer, 2016, Oxf Univ Press).


Research approach

Our goal is to conduct systematic, high-quality theoretical and empirical research on scientific assessments and other forms of expert policy advice. We envisage both critical (i.e., evaluation) and constructive (i.e., practically informing solution-oriented policy assessments) research that is interdisciplinary in nature, i.e. integrating philosophy, empirical social-science methodology, and political theory. For this research we can draw on the valuable practical experiences at MCC with both assessment-making and individual studies on policy options.



SEP has already provided reviews and advice for various science-policy interfaces, including, e.g., the IPCC WGIII assessments, UNEP's GEO-6 assessment, the IPBES assessment scoping documents, and the new EU science advice mechanism.

Currently, our major project in collaboration with UNEP is the research initiative on “The Future of Global Environmental Assessment-making” (FOGEAM, since 2013), resulting in a special issue soon. An example of the research conducted within the FOGEAM project is Jennifer Garard's work analyzing how, and how successfully, stakeholders are engaged in contemporary global environmental assessments.


Research outlook

Dominic Lenzi and others will inter alia do research on particular ethical issues and property rights regarding the management of natural resources, particularly forests. We will discuss how best to treat these highly policy-relevant ethical aspects in particular scientific assessments.

More recently, a Project on Stakeholder Engagement and Evaluation coordinated by Jennifer Garard was initiated under the SEP working group. We are exploring how different institutes, agencies and organizations engage with stakeholders in dialogue platforms and other formats of providing scientific policy advice as well as investigating various mechanisms of evaluating these formats and the success of science-policy interfaces more broadly. A major goal of the project is to highlight especially promising aspects of successful stakeholder engagement, and to come up with novel combinations to improve the effectiveness and influence of MCC's engagement in the future.


Former team members (researchers)

Prof. Christian Flachsland (as Working Group Co-Head 2012-2014)

Marcel Dorsch (as PhD Reseacher)

Prof. Clare Heyward (as Guest Researcher, September 2015)

Anna Leipprand (as Fellow)

Pauline Riousset (as Fellow, member of FOGEAM project)

Christoph von Stechow (as Fellow)

Fabian Joas (as Fellow)

Please note that the group structure was changed in late 2014 because of the split of former group “Assessments and Scientific Policy Advice” into this new working group and the governance group.


Current publications

Faling, M., Garard, J., Schouten, G., Veeger, M., Vervoort, J., Schulz K., & Rutting, L. , 2017

Innovative Participatory Research Methods in Earth System Governance

Annual Review of Social Partnerships 12, pp.76-80
Peer Review
Garard, J.; Kowarsch, M., 2017

Objectives for Stakeholder Engagement in Global Environmental Assessments

Peer Review
Kowarsch, M.; Jabbour, J. , 2017

Solution-oriented global environmental assessments: Opportunities and challenges

Environmental Science & Policy
Peer Review