Challenges in decision-making: from barriers to synergies
Passion, policy & science in environment and health
“We have done a lot of situation analysis, identification of the issues. However, that remains only information -– unless it can be turned into policies in the respective ministries. Data has to be translated into something that will move people; some people are moved by money, some by politics. These are passion parameters. You have got to make people feel the issue.”
WHO Official, SEARO Region, New Delhi (2).
Scientists are trained in dispassionate enquiry, an essential tool of the trade. At the same time, in the policy process, there is a need to frame compelling objective evidence on environment and health issues in terms valued by the public – and decisionmakers. Appreciating the complexities of the policy process and how scientific evidence is used, and might be used better, in that process has been a theme of HELI. The passion of politics must be harnessed to the scientific passion for knowledge about the root environmental causes of disease.
HELI's approach was designed around four key issues identified in the Needs Assessment Workshop (April 2003) involving both developed and developing country policymakers, and refined further in the global review of decision-making.
- More effective impact assessment procedures are needed in developing countries. This can facilitate political and scientific exchange within a systematic and transparent framework. Impact assessment is a forum where science and policy interact – producing a synergy between scientific evidence and policy agendas.
- Analysis of environment and health costs and benefits is important to improved utility of assessment frameworks. Both economic and socioeconomic valuation put issues into monetary terms relevant to many policy-makers. Non-monetary measures, including death and disease burden and the rate/degree of environmental degradation, also are powerful indicators.
- Interactive exchange between scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders is critical to improving access to knowledge about health and environment problems and solutions. Such exchanges can range from technical workshops to intersectoral government meetings and ministerial-level encounters. Participatory research allows policy-makers and stakeholders to "see" and "touch" the evidence for themselves.
- Building decision-maker and stakeholder awareness about environment and health problems, tools and policy options requires sustained and comprehensive communication strategies. Such strategies should describe potential "solutions" alongside the "problems," and relate to successful experiences elsewhere. Potential economic and poverty reduction gains should be communicated together with the health and environment gains. Policy-relevant briefing and training materials should be refined and adapted to local needs and issues.