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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.