Assessing the 'usability' of climate change research for decision-making: A case study of the Canadian International Polar Year

  • Ford J
  • Knight M
  • Pearce T
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The creation of 'usable science' is widely promoted by many environmental change focused research programs. Few studies however, have examined the relationship between research conducted as part of such programs and the decision-making outcomes that the work is supposed to advance, and is constrained by limited methodological development on how to empirically assess the 'usability' of science. Herein, this paper develops a conceptual model and assessment rubric to quantitatively and systematically evaluate the usability of climate change research for informing decision-making. We focus on the process through which data is collected, analyzed and reported and examine the extent to which key principles of usable science are integrated into project design, using grant proposals as our data source. The approach is applied to analyze climate change research conducted as part of the International Polar Year in Canada, with 23 projects identified as having explicit goals to inform decision-making.While the creation of usable science was promoted by funded projects in the International Polar Year, this was not generally reflected in research design: fewer than half determined objectives with input of decision makers, decision context was not widely considered, and knowledge users were not widely reported to be engaged in assessing the quality of data or in resolving conflict in evidence. The importance of science communication was widely emphasized, although only 8/23 projects discussed tailoring specific results for end user needs. Thus while International Polar Year research has made significant advances in understanding the human dimensions of Arctic climate change, key attributes necessary for determining success in linking science to decision-making (pertinence, quality, timeliness) were not captured by many projects. Integrating these attributes into research design from the outset is essential for creating usable science, and needs to be at the forefront of future research programs which aim to advance societal outcomes. The framework for assessing usability here, while developed and tested in an Arctic climate change context, has broader applicability in the general environmental change field. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Arctic
  • Canada
  • Climate change
  • Decision-making
  • Indicators
  • International Polar Year
  • Knowledge user
  • Usable science

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