SeyCCAT’s CEO, Angelique Pouponneau, reflects on the Science-Policy Interface Roundtable, “SeyCCAT has initiated the conversation, but it should continue beyond the initial exchange of opinion. The event participants proposed to establish an annual or a bi-annual policy-science forum, where different groups of stakeholders could share their updates and find synergies between the work they do.”
The Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) advocates for evidence-based decision-making. The Blue Grants Fund (BGF) of SeyCCAT, too, has a specific goal to promote evidence-based policy in Seychelles. To accomplish this, the BGF has been funding research projects of national and international significance that could offer important information to local policymakers working on marine and environmental legislation. But the BGF can do more. With access to scientists, NGOs, and the global research community, the BGF is uniquely positioned to forge partnerships and promote further research that would generate specialized, cross-sectoral knowledge to meet rapidly growing for reliable local data.
The recently completed BGF impact assessment stipulates that BGF-funded research projects generate data that can inform the marine spatial planning process, the implementation of the Mahe Plateau co-management plan and can support the goals of the National Development Strategy 2019 – 2023. All three of these initiatives represent strategic priorities for the country’s policy. Yet, with 4 years worth of research under the BGF’s belt, there is “only limited” evidence of the data uptake by local lawmakers.
To understand what causes this gap, SeyCCAT hosted a virtual event that brought together Seychelles-based researchers, policymakers and BGF grantees. During the 2-hour discussion, the participants shared their views on the science-policy nexus and the relationship between the two sectors. Specifically, the conversation zoomed in on the barriers for a wider uptake of the BGF-produced data by the policymakers. Below, are the three main obstacles identified by the participants.
Barrier 1: The Absence of the Research Agenda
Limited use of knowledge produced by the BGF-funded projects inevitably raises the question of whether the research was necessary in the first place; if there are no uses and no users for data, should these data be produced? While this question neglects the complexities of the science-policy interface, it raises an important point of having a guide on the research areas that would support national development priorities. Although policy should not be the sole driver of research, it is important to have a national research agenda. Such a framework would help guide future studies and help focus scientific efforts on data that is truly needed. This would be especially important for the marine spatial plan and the effective management of the marine protected areas, both of which are important but new endeavours for Seychelles with few reliable data.
In the absence of such guidance, SeyCCAT bases its funding agenda on the 5 strategic objectives and selects projects following consultations with stakeholders, including government and local communities. However, the overall direction and focus of the research remain driven by those who chose to apply for the BGF. In practical terms, it usually means by individual interests of the researchers.
In addition to a large-scale scientific agenda, the research needs could be identified through questions and data gaps discovered in earlier studies. These can also influence the BGF’s call for proposals.
To address the national need and move towards a more strategic BGF, SeyCCAT has secured funding from the Blue Nature Alliance to develop a national research agenda based on the marine spatial plan and the marine protected areas.
Barrier 2: Communications
The common output of scientific research is a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. So far, SeyCCAT’s grantees have produced 4 peer-reviewed publications. The roundtable participants suggested that this is not always the best way to share information with policymakers. Instead, shorter and less technical materials such as policy briefs and infographics should be part and parcel of output alongside the scientific publication.
However, translating a scientific publication into an easy-to-understand or even visual format requires technical communications skills that scientists may not possess. This introduces the need to have a multi-disciplinary approach to science and policymaking and raises the question of who should be responsible to break the communications barrier.
Should SeyCCAT in collaboration with the University of Seychelles’ Blue Economy Research Institute rise to the challenge and become that “evidence bridge” with the responsibility to “synthesize evidence; prepare and distribute easy-to-find and easy-to-use evidence summaries, and develop and maintain networks of connections with researchers and practitioners?” With the right support and buy-in from both scientists and policymakers, this might present a much-needed collaboration and suitable solution.
Barrier 3: Time Scale
One consistent message that emerged from the roundtable was the fact that policymakers and scientists operate on different time scales. Policymakers work in 5-year intervals, while scientists design their research based on the grant duration set by donors, which is usually two years. The prime example was the reef mapping project on Aldabra by the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), which was set to inform the extension of the Aldabra reserve. The SIF ‘s estimated that this project would take 1 year; in reality, it took about five years for the science to inform the policy process and ultimately, the Seychelles Marine Spatial plan.
Having completed only 4 funding cycles, we may still see BGF-backed research projects helping shape science-based policy in Seychelles. In the meantime, we must ensure that the data is not lost and is accessible to the present and future decision-makers.
In conclusion, there is a clear need for a consistent and continuous engagement among politicians, policymakers, and scientists (including social scientists) and for a forum to do it. SeyCCAT has initiated the conversation, but it should continue beyond the initial exchange of opinion. The event participants proposed to establish an annual or a bi-annual policy-science forum, where different groups of stakeholders could share their updates and find synergies between the work they do. No doubt, a forum like that would be a valuable tool to advance the science and policy connection and bring us one step closer to effectively using knowledge to shape our laws.
 Kadykalo, A. N., Buxton, R. T., Morrison, P., Anderson, C. M., Bickerton, H., Francis, C. M., … & Fahrig, L. (2021). Bridging research and practice in conservation. Conservation Biology.