Panel 103 - Bringing the Social Sciences into New Policy Spaces: Solution-oriented Case Studies and Dialogue

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 13th 2019
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Bringing the Social Sciences into New Policy Spaces: Solution-oriented Case Studies and Dialogue

Organized by: Office of the Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada with the Institute of Environment, University of Ottawa

Speakers: Elisabeth Gauthier, Research Director, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada; Chris McPhee, Innovation Management Specialist, Living Laboratories Initiative, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Brian Pentz, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto; Nathan Young, Professor of Sociology, University of Ottawa

Moderator: Vik Pant, Chief Scientist and Chief Science Advisor, Natural Resources Canada


  1. Many government priorities and mandates revolve around understanding and managing human behaviour, perception and social organization (e.g., public and community engagement, modifying or regulating behaviours, etc.). These priorities can be difficult to achieve with solely quantitative and “hard” science-based evidence and advice. 

  2. Social scientists have advanced training in these areas, and can offer unique insights into challenges faced by governments, especially in science-based departments and organizations.

  3. For example, social scientists can help:

    1. Identify and frame appropriate and useful research questions,

    2. Help scientists understand how different perspectives are shaping public conversation,

    3. Suggest and implement appropriate research methodologies,

    4. Support and evaluate multi-stakeholder innovation processe

    5. Understand the barriers and incentives to adopting technologies and practices

    6. Facilitate organizational change in scientific domains

    7. Explore best approaches to engage communities in decision making processes, and

    8. Research and facilitate behavioural changes (e.g., how do we get people to build houses further from forests to reduce the risks associated with forest fires?)


  1. Social scientists should also be employed in government as scientists and researchers, not just as policymakers, especially in science-based departments and organizations (SBDAs). In the meantime, develop novel mechanisms of collaboration with external organizations (e.g., universities, NGOs) to address limited social sciences capacity in government organizations.

  2. Social science researchers should work in interdisciplinary teams to create integrated (i.e., qualitative and quantitative, “hard” and soft” science) research. 

  3. For teams to be truly interdisciplinary, they need to start collaborating early in the research process and interact on a regular basis to build trust and understanding of each other’s roles. 

  4. Social sciences research in government needs to be recognized as objective and non-political.

  5. Social scientists have to do a better job of communicating their work and its purpose to decision makers.