Contested Decisions: The Role of Boundary Organizations

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 1st 2017

Organized by: Marc Saner, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa

Speakers: Frédéric Bouchard, President, ACFAS (Association francophone pour le savoir);
Karen Dodds, Former Assistant Deputy Minister, Environment and Climate Change Canada;
Johannes Klumpers, Head of Unit, Scientific Advice Mechanism, European Commission;
Marc Saner, Professor, University of Ottawa

Moderator: Sonia L’Heureux, Parliamentary Librarian, Library of Parliament

Takeaways and recommendations: 

Takeaways and recommendations


  • The formulation of questions put to boundary organizations should be examined.

    • Questions and interests can shift rapidly, especially in a policy-relevant environment.

    • Engage in a dialogue and make the questions and expectations explicit: it requires going back and forth, and the courage to ask for clarification.

  •  Scientists should offer scientific input and advice, contributing their expertise provides a critical contribution to policy development

  • Policymaking is a specific “craft” that has its own considerations and imperatives – e.g., timing pressures and incomplete information are constants that are part of the policymaking process

  • Βoundary organizations can be a bridge to these two specialized functions

  • Academics should be clear who their funders are and the policy motivation behind the funding.

  • Think tanks are playing a broader role in policymaking with the emergence of a knowledge-based society. Historically, research and its findings were the purview of universities alone; now, trained researchers also work at boundary organizations, using research to support policy.

  • The emergence of think tanks in society means knowledge plays an increasing role in decision-making and in society.

  • Think tanks answer specific timely questions but are beholden to the question askers who fund their work.

  • The Scientific Advice Mechanism is a boundary organization that advises the European Commission.

  • There are several challenges for the Scientific Advice Mechanism:

    • Delivering science advice within political timescales;

    • Choosing effective evidence review techniques; and

    • Communicating advice to policymakers and the public, particularly when it involves uncertainties.