Geoscience in public administration - some comments from the UK


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Geoscience in public administration - some comments from the UK

Brian R Marker

Geoscientists are well aware of the importance of their information to land management and development. However many key decisions on legislation, regulation, policies and development are made by individuals who have limited awareness of the relevance. The "evidence base" is often dominated by economic and social considerations. Recognition of the need for sustainable development, has given much more emphasis to environmental factors but mainly in terms of conservation of habitats, protected species and biodiversity. Increasing public consultation on proposed measures gives geoscientists a better opportunity in the process. But the relevance of comments may not be appreciated if these are not presented in the right way. Too often, geoscientists are seen as a group who emphasise why things should not be done, rather than how they might best be done.

Successful influence depends on early involvement in the policy/decision chain but the geoscientist is often called in only after adverse events have taken place. The introduction of requirements for sustainability appraisal of plans and environmental impact assessment (EIA) of significant developments has encouraged earlier engagement. But most small-scale development is not subject to EIA although site investigation is normally required. Public authorities are often poorly equipped to assess the adequacy of the resulting documents. Moreover sound assessment and investigation require ready access to high quality information.

A key issue is, therefore, how to increase awareness of important information amongst:

* national and local elected politicians
* officials who advise national, regional and local government
* prospective developers
* the general public

Use of plain, rather than scientific, language helps. But, for effective communication, those presenting information need make it specifically relevant and available to each audience. That requires understanding of how audiences think and work. Some examples will be given to illustrate approaches that have been taken with varying degrees of success.

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Geoscience in public administration - some comments from the UK

  1. 1. Geoscience in public administration – some views from the UK Brian Marker (until recently an adviser to Government on minerals, hazards and waste management)
  2. 2. The situation in the UK? <ul><li>Comprehensive, detailed geological maps </li></ul><ul><li>Significant areas covered by resource and hazard maps </li></ul><ul><li>Readily accessible databases </li></ul><ul><li>Wide use of GIS </li></ul><ul><li>Comprehensive legislation, policy and guidance </li></ul><ul><li>Requirements for environmental assessments of major development </li></ul>
  3. 3. Successes? <ul><li>Hazard and resource maps have been linked directly to development policy, guidance and process </li></ul><ul><li>involvement of local officials and elected members increasing </li></ul><ul><li>monitoring systems for hazards </li></ul><ul><li>prioritised remedial works programmes </li></ul><ul><li>negotiations with financial interests </li></ul><ul><li>information available to land owners/occupiers </li></ul>
  4. 4. Failures? <ul><li>Map/databases do not include all relevant factors </li></ul><ul><li>Often little involvement of local authority officials and members </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to incorporate all relevant information into development plan policies </li></ul><ul><li>Little public awareness </li></ul><ul><li>Neglect of “rare events” </li></ul><ul><li>Frequent lack of systematic monitoring </li></ul>
  5. 5. Why? <ul><li>Clear problems well recognised after the event – others neglected </li></ul><ul><li>Uneven planning / development responses </li></ul><ul><li>Worry about loss of value </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficient time and money to get involved </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of geological understanding </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of trust in scientists </li></ul>
  6. 6. Why? <ul><li>Confidence of elected members in officials </li></ul><ul><li>Short term thinking </li></ul><ul><li>Bad news – bad press </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to link problems with “geoscience” </li></ul><ul><li>Much depends on individual administrators and scientists - relationships </li></ul>
  7. 7. Individuals <ul><li>Appreciation of issues </li></ul><ul><li>Risk perception </li></ul><ul><li>Understanding of the need for resources </li></ul><ul><li>Holistic view of environment </li></ul><ul><li>Background, experience, education, open-mindedness </li></ul>
  8. 8. Participation <ul><li>Statutory consultees </li></ul><ul><li>Inter-agency issues </li></ul><ul><li>Public involvement in EIA and SEA </li></ul><ul><li>Political and official advice </li></ul><ul><li>Concepts and terminology </li></ul>
  9. 9. Education <ul><li>Crowded curriculum </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to include in early stages – left as matters for specialists </li></ul><ul><li>General low level of exposure to geo(science) and awareness of issues </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of coherent understanding of the environment </li></ul>
  10. 10. Geoscientists <ul><li>There is a problem </li></ul><ul><li>Wrong policy </li></ul><ul><li>Unsure so more research </li></ul><ul><li>But seldom top priority </li></ul><ul><li>Interpreters </li></ul><ul><li>Non-academic papers </li></ul><ul><li>Listen rather than tell </li></ul>
  11. 11. Conclusions <ul><li>Much depends on: </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals </li></ul><ul><li>Education at all levels </li></ul><ul><li>Links into administrative systems </li></ul><ul><li>Involvement with others </li></ul><ul><li>Tuning to specific audiences </li></ul><ul><li>Finishing applied geological work is the beginning rather than the end </li></ul><ul><li>Time and resources </li></ul>