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Dependable Dynamism: Lessons For Designing Scientific Assessment Processes In Consensus Negotiations

7096 words - 29 pages

Dependable dynamism: lessons for designing scientific
assessment processes in consensus negotiations
Noelle Eckley*
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 JFK Street (UR),
Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Negotiations that involve the use and interpretation of scientific information and assessment are often particularly difficult,
especially when the scientific input is uncertain or contested. Parties can exploit this uncertainty in order to stall progress, where they
might prefer a very different policy outcome. In addition, scientific input often changes as new research is done and disseminated. In
order to ...view middle of the document...

The ability to modify such conclusions at a later time facilitates decision-making processes by offering a new
dimension of compromise on both scientific assessment and policy decisions, and lowering the threshold of credibility necessary for
decision-making. r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Establishing consensus on regulatory actions, where
there are a large number of competing interests, is often
a difficult process. Where there are significant scientific
uncertainties and disagreements as well, controversies in
scientific assessment processes that inform policy
decisions can be a significant force in stalling policy
progress. For environmental issues in particular, recent
history has shown that making decisions informed by
scientific knowledge, and managing interactions between scientific assessment processes and policy discussions, has been a challenge for both scientists and
regulators. Compounding the problem of uncertainty
and dissent over scientific issues is the rapidly changing
state of the science in many relevant disciplines.
Those designing scientific assessment and negotiating
processes often look to other agreements in an effort to
learn lessons about how better to design such interactions. For example, ‘‘Modeled after the Montreal
Protocol’’ was a saying among delegates to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a
global legally binding agreement on persistent organic
pollutants (POPs), in January 1999 (Earth Negotiations
Bulletin, 1999). One of the lessons often drawn from the
Montreal Protocol, as well as other existing agreements,
is that scientific assessment processes informing decision
makersFlike negotiations themselvesFshould be designed as adaptable or dynamic. That is, decisionmaking that is informed by scientific assessments should
be flexible enough to be modified based on future
assessment and review.
Richard Benedick, in his attempt to delineate
practical lessons from the Montreal Protocol experience,
mentions the idea of ‘‘adaptability’’ as a property of
decision-making and assessment processes that might
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-617-384-9244; fax: +1-617-496-
E-mail address: noelle (N. Eckley).
0959-3780/02/$ - see front matter r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 5 9 - 3 7 8 0 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 0 2 7 - 9help other agreements deal with the interactions of
science and policy, and the challenge of changing and
contentious science. In urging negotiators of other
agreements to pay attention to the process, not just
the outcome, of negotiations, he writes:
The developments following the 1987 signing [of the
Montreal Protocol] illustrated the wisdom of designing the treaty as a flexible instrument. By providing
for periodicintegrated assessmentsFthe first of
which was advanced . . . in response to the rapidly
changing scienceFthe negotiators made the accord
adaptable to evolving circumstances....

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