Lesson 2.3: Using models in policy making: the SEAMLESS approach

Icône de l'outil pédagogique Authors

Johanna Alkan Olsson, Ann-Katrin Bäcklund, Joost Wolf, Pytrik Reidsma, Sara Brogaard, Marie Taverne, Jean-Paul. Bousset, Jaques Wery and Martin van Ittersum

Icône de l'outil pédagogique Introduction

Impact assessment (IA) is gradually making inroad in European policy making. European agriculture and rural areas face rapid changes in response to agreements to liberalize international trade, the introduction of novel agro-technologies, changing societal demand towards food and rural areas, and climate change. Efficient and effective agricultural and environmental policies are needed to support sustainability of European agriculture and its contribution to sustainable development of society at large. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of new policies and innovations prior to their introduction, i.e., ex-ante integrated assessment, is vital to target policy development for sustainable development.


Figure 1. A European farming system.


The European Commission places great aspirations on the IA system as a way to achieve better policy and law making but also as a tool for improved legitimacy of government and increased consensus in European politics. This is reinforced by opening up for the possibility of stakeholders to influence every step of the work process. In order to increase the credibility and legitimacy of the assessments, which have been questioned, there is a call for using more science based methods. As a result there is an increasing interest in using modelling tools to support assessment work (Bäcklund et al. 2009). However, the use of science based models in a decision process is not always straightforward (Alkan Olsson, 2005, 2007). The reasons for this are multiple, but mainly linked to the different agendas, cultures and dynamics of the political respectively scientific communities.

The SEAMLESS project has developed a computerized framework to assist impact assessments of agricultural and environmental policies across a range of scales (Van Ittersum et al. 2008). To develop this tool the researchers in the project have engaged in a participatory process with potential users. This included a more formal way through the so called User Forum meeting every six months and specific evaluation sessions performed through so called test cases throughout the duration of the project as well less formal ways, i.e. through personal interviews, e-mails, and targeted meetings on specific issues. The aim of this interaction has been to increase the user friendliness of the tool.

When analysing the interaction between science & technology and the policy process the criteria of credibility, salience, and legitimacy are frequently used (Cash et al. 2003). Credibility concerns the scientific adequacy of evidence and arguments. Salience concerns the relevance, appropriateness, usefulness and timing of the information. Legitimacy is achieved when the production of knowledge has been conducted in an unbiased way and has treated opposing views and interests in a fair manner. This short introduction will based on the above mentioned concepts analyse some experiences collected during the SEAMLESS stakeholder interactions to highlight some issues that are important to have in mind when using models as a basis for policy making.

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