On 17 May 2018, SAPEA held the symposium Shaping European Science Advice: Insights and Experiences, at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. This event explored different experiences in providing science advice for policy, and what we can learn from those to shape the future of policy advice in Europe.

The symposium started with remarks from Professor Bernard Charpentier, Chair of SAPEA, and Professor Pearl Dykstra, Deputy Chair of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. They presented the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM), including the specific contributions from the European academies project SAPEA and the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors respectively.

The discussion continued with the presentation of the  Counsellor Karina Angelieva (Head of Section Education and Research, Permanent Representation of Bulgaria to the EU), who provided insights on how to develop scientific based policies and economies in Europe, based on research data and analyses. She stated that the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) sends a strong signal to Member States regarding the importance of evidence-based policymaking. She particularly underlined how critical it is to have permanent bodies in place to facilitate science advice for policy in order to give stability to the mechanism.

In the first panel discussion, different national perspectives on science for policy were discussed. Professor Peter Halligan (Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales), Professor Frans Brom (Council Secretary and Director of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy) and Dr Siyavuya Bulani (Senior Liaison Officer, Academy of Science of South Africa) presented some key aspects of science policy advice in their respective countries, giving the audience the opportunity to compare different mechanisms and experiences. Amongst many points discussed, the question of trust between scientists and policy-makers was raised. Trust in science can only be earned by showing ability and relevance, by engaging policymakers early on, by communicating results to a wide audience and by engaging with the public.

In a second session, two examples of recent scientific policy advice provided by SAPEA and the SAM Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission were discussed: “Food from the Oceans”, and “Improving authorisation processes for plant protection products in Europe”. Exploring aspects of successful science advice, its uptake, implementation and the challenges faced, key stakeholders in the process of delivering the advice also covered the lessons that should be learned from these experiences. Particularly, short timeframes and “hot” topics were identified as challenging for the delivery of scientific advice, and can jeopardise good cooperation between science, policy and the public. However, amongst many other things, public engagement, interdisciplinarity and trust were seen as critical for shaping the future of policy advice in Europe.

The symposium concluded with a reflection session from several leading academy members: Ulrike Tillmann (Vice-President of the Royal Society), Elżbieta Frąckowiak (Vice-President of the Polish Academy of Sciences), Peter Kennedy (President of the Royal Irish Academy) and Tarmo Soomere (President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences). They concluded that frameworks for science advice should be improved, broader approaches to topics and multidisciplinarity are desirable (“seek connections and not silos”), and in a changing society, flexibility from both sides (science and policy) must shape the future of science policy advice.