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Workshop: Interfaces between science and society, 27-28 nov 2003, Milano
Posted by Jeroen on Monday, July 21 2003 @ 15:10:51 CEST
News and announcements The JRC organises an International Workshop

Interfaces between Science and Society, Collecting Experiences for Good Practice Milano, 27-28 November 2003.

Themes covered by the workshop:

  • Communicating among plural perspectives
  • Managing uncertainty, complexity and value commitments
  • Knowledge Assessment
  • Transparency, openness and participation in science policy processes
  • Community based research
  • Emerging styles of governance and new ICT
The objectives of the workshop are:
  • To collect experiences of eminent people in Europe and the rest of the world dedicating their work to science & society interfaces
  • to have good discussions about the themes of the conference
  • to train young scientists about the themes of the conference
  • to edit guidelines for good practice in science & society interfaces covered by the conference themes
For registration and the latest news on the workshop, see alba.jrc.it/interfaces

NEW (added Dec. 1 2003): Powerpoint Presentations from the session on Uncertainty, assumptions, and value commitments in the knowledge base of complex environmental problems are now available from the download section "lectures and posterpresentations".

The workshop consists of 3 different activities:

  • Plenary sessions - 8 keynote speakers (Jacquie Burgess - UCL (UK); António Câmara - UNL/FCT (PT); Paras Karacostas - EC - DG RTD; Maria Eduarda Gonçalves - ISCTE (PT); Silvio Funtowicz - EC - JRC; Jerry Ravetz - RMC (UK); Jeroen van Der Sluijs - UU (NL))
  • Breakout sessions - (16 sessions) organised by invitation, consisting of 3 presentations, the chairperson's, a senior contributor and an "early stage" contributor and much discussion.
  • Exhibition area - Beyond usual posters

The preliminary program of the break-out sessions can be downloaded here.

One of the break-out sessions is on:

Uncertainty, assumptions, and value commitments in the knowledge base of complex environmental problems

Session organiser and chair: Jeroen van der Sluijs, Towards multi dimensional uncertainty assessment
Invited key note speaker: Naomi Oreskes, Assumption-ladenness and uncertainty: Can they be managed?
Invited young researcher: Barbara Regeer: Knowledge and values in transdisciplinary research

Session abstract:
The knowledge base available for decision-making on sustainability issues is characterized by imperfect understanding of the complex systems involved, assumption ladenness of the models used to assess these systems, value-ladenness of assumptions, and scientific and societal controversies. Decisions will need to be made before conclusive scientific evidence is available, while at the same time the potential costs of wrong decisions can be huge. The combination of this societal context of knowledge production and use and the epistemological limitations of the assessment models used, implies an urgent need for fully-fledged management of uncertainty and extended peer review of underlying assumptions.

The interdisciplinary nature of science for sustainability poses additional requirements with regard to the systematic analysis, documentation and communication of uncertainty, in order to remedy the well known problem that when quantitative information is produced in one disciplinary context and used in another, important caveats tend to be ignored, uncertainties compressed and numbers used at face value (c.f Wynne; Van der Sluijs et al.).

In recent years, an increasing body of conceptual and theoretical work in the field of uncertainty management has been accomplished. Key insights from the field include:

  • Uncertainty is partly socially constructed and its assessment always involves subjective judgement;
  • More research does not necessarily reduce uncertainty, it often reveals unforeseen complexities and irreducible uncertainty;
  • High quality ¹ low uncertainty;
  • Uncertainty is a multi-dimensional concept involving quantitative (technical: inexactness) and qualitative (methodological: unreliability, epistemological: ignorance and societal: limited social robustness) dimensions and it can manifest itself at different locations (context, indicator choice, model structure, parameters and data);
  • In problems that are characterized by high systems uncertainties, knowledge gaps, and high decision stakes, qualitative dimensions of uncertainty may well dominate the quantitative dimensions;
  • All models used in environmental assessment are assumption laden; many of these assumptions are value-laden and assumptions remain largely hidden to the users of model results. There is an urgent need for extended peer review of model assumptions and for diagnostic tools that enable a critical appraisal of the knowledge base and its assumptions and that promote critical self-awareness for those who produce, use and are affected by policy-relevant knowledge of their engagement with that knowledge.
  • Most of present day uncertainty methodologies and practices focus on quantitative uncertainty in model parameters and input data only. Methods to address qualitative dimensions of uncertainty are absent or in its early stage of development. Uncertainty in model structure, model assumptions, and model context is largely ignored.
It is now widely held by scientists and policy makers that uncertainty management is essential. But there is little appreciation for the fact that there are many different dimensions of uncertainty, and there is a lack of understanding about their different characteristics and relative importance. Well-established methods exist to address quantitative dimensions of uncertainty, but tools for systematic assessment of the qualitative dimensions and for identification and review of critical assumptions and value ladenness, are in its early stage of development.

The session will review state of the art of multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional practice of uncertainty assessment. It will identify the major challenges and barriers to be overcome in order to arrive at fully fledged uncertainty management. Such a system should enable providers and users of knowledge on sustainability issues to be clear and transparent about the various uncertainties, critical assumptions and strengths and weaknesses of the underlying knowledge base and will provide guidance for better communication about uncertainties and valueadenness. In doing so it will promote criticism of the knowledge base for precautionary policy making by clients and users of all sorts, both expert and lay, and will thereby support extended peer-review processes.

For the other break-out sessions see alba.jrc.it/interfaces



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