The LWEC conference on ‘Decision-making in the Twilight of Uncertainty’ held on Tues 19th November 2013 brought together 140 attendees from academia, business, NGOs, and the public sector to look at different approaches to addressing uncertainty around decision-making in the context of the environment and how we can make better use of the evidence we have. This was the second annual event hosted by LWEC and key note speakers included Prof. Ian Gillespie, NERC Director of Science, Dr. Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, and Prof. Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor, DEFRA. NCI was in attendance and made a note of the following core take home messages:

  • It is vital to communicate what we know and don’t know in a way people can understand. It is critical that Knowledge Exchange is tailored to the audience. At the same time, we all need to talk about ‘uncertainty’ – what it means and how we use the concept – a lot more, and not shy away from its complexities.
  • Decisions have to be made – what we already know needs to be made available more widely and easily “We can innovate and invent all we like, but if people don’t use them [tools, ideas, research outputs] they are useless”. Application does not mean or should not mean, however, stripping away complexity and ignoring uncertainty. But as it stands, often ‘best science’ gets translated into ‘certain science’, which results in dangerous simplification. We need to move away from this.
  • Most of our problems are with people, not with technology/solutions/tools. They are also the only thing we can manage – we cannot ‘manage’ nature. Thus we need to focus on people – communication is a big part of this. Demonstrating humility and emotional engagement will be important to getting across a positive message.
  • Public engagement on issues relating to uncertainty and the environment is critical. We must foster understanding of what the challenges of uncertainty and decision-making in this context means in practice and develop a clearer idea of what counts as ‘good evidence’.
  • Interdisciplinary work is absolutely vital – to do this we need to come up with a common language, then design common research goals and co-develop approaches and solutions. This takes a lot of time, but if you invest that time, it can be very fruitful. Policy relevance and academic excellence are not necessarily aligned but we need to develop interdisciplinary, holistic research proposals. Researchers are often reluctant to submit these kind of proposals – but they are essential, as is more collaboration with and between the Research Councils.
  • We need to identify and make us of ‘champions’ across sectors and bring them together.

Presentations from the days’ events can be found online here.