Support Unit 2

Policy and Decision Making Facility​


Daniel Esty, (Yale University)

Michael Wara (Stanford), Brad Gentry (Yale), Paul Anastas (Yale)

1. Objectives

The overall goal of SEARCH is to perform rigorous scientific research to aid more effective decision making in the air pollution, energy, and climate change policy realms and to enable better informed policy choices for environmental health. In theory, sound science would underpin all environmental policy decisions. But in practice there is often a divide between the best science and real-world policy. Thus policy decisions are made without the benefit of the best scientific information. The barriers to better connecting policy with rigorous science are numerous including different goals, perceptions of uncertainty, decision timeframes, and even terminology.

The SEARCH initiative seeks to bridge this divide. It will do so through an iterative process that will bring the science and policy domains together in more regular and robust ways than have been practiced in the past. This emphasis on the science-policy interface will ensure that the outcomes of SEARCH are particularly well positioned to inform state and local policies.

A systematic review of studies with interviews of health policy makers (>2000 interviews) identified three factors that encouraged the use of science in decisions: personal contact with scientists, timely relevance of the research, and inclusion of policy recommendations and summaries. The same study found the most important barriers to be a lack of personal contact, lack of timely relevance of research, and mutual mistrust. There have been numerous recommendations to address these barriers such as providing incentives for dialogue between scientists and policy makers, utilizing knowledge brokers to go between scientists and policy makers to build dialogue between the groups, increasing organizational capacity, disseminating summaries that can be easily understood by decision makers, developing diverse research teams, and broadly defining research objectives. Other key recommendations include redefining the starting point for when knowledge is transferred from science to policy; considering communication of policy to research, as well as communication of research to policy; and actively involving policy makers in the scientific process. The inclusion of policy makers in research is more successful when the interaction takes place early in the process.

For SEARCH research projects, we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of scientists who strive to perform policy-relevant research; however, in order to achieve the best science for policy solutions, a Policy and Decision Making Facility Support Unit will help us generate research that is most beneficial for real-world decisions, thereby maximizing our contribution to public health and the environment. The expertise of Unit members includes scholarship on policy and law with real-world experience in business, government, and the non-profit sector. The specific objectives are:

Objective 1. Foster policy-relevant science through an external Decision Making Team.

  • 1a. Assemble experts to serve on the Decision Making Team, including state-level air quality directors and other interested parties
  • 1b. Gain insights regarding research directions from the Decision Making Team before, during, and after analysis to ensure that SEARCH focuses on the most relevant research questions and energy transition scenarios that reflect key concerns of decision makers

Objective 2. Aid SEARCH researchers with the development of specific energy and policy scenarios for use in research projects using the Unit’s expertise in real-world policy and decision making

Objective 3. Facilitate the dissemination of research findings through innovative means that effectively communicate with policy makers and the general public

2. Approach/Activities

Our approach to assembling a team of key decision makers begins with an emphasis on state- level and regional air quality directors. In particular, we focus on recruiting those in charge of developing and implementing air quality plans (e.g., State Implementation Plans to comply with National Ambient Air Quality Standards), as well as those involved in more specific programs (e.g., transportation plans of major cities). We also will actively recruit policy makers at the local level, including those who focus on transportation plans and other energy transitions that align with those studied by the Center. A key strength of our approach is the inclusion of technical experts, such as air quality modelers, to ascertain where our analytical methods are consistent with or different from those used by these agencies, and allow us insight into what limitations and strengths of the methods are most relevant for the agencies.