Sebastian Linke

Science for environmental governance: dilemmas in advisory processes

Science is a key actor for addressing environmental problems. Exactly how scientific knowledge and advice should be developed and used in environmental governance is, however, an open question. Scientific advisory procedures need to ensure scientific credibility in a context of new governance requirements for stakeholder participation and transparency, creating a dilemma between credibility and legitimacy. In this project, we investigate the tension between scientific credibility and legitimacy as well as on-going efforts to resolve it within EU fisheries and marine governance. This policy domain, which is informed by scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), is undergoing reform, strongly exposing it to contemporary governance norms. Exploring ICES' efforts to reconstruct advisory procedures under changing policy frameworks, we investigate the research question: How do tensions between credibility and legitimacy manifest themselves and how are they resolved? By relating our empirical findings to theoretical perspectives from science-policy studies, the project contributes to an improved understanding of science-society relations and how they are realigned and made sustainable under new governance requirements.
Final report
Final report for RJ project
Science for environmental governance: dilemmas in advisory processes

1. Purpose, development, and implementation of the project
The aim of this project was to explore tensions arising between scientific credibility and democratic legitimacy in the scientific advisory practices of EU marine and fisheries governance. The project did this through a focus on the scientific advisory organization responsible for advice on fisheries and marine ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic, namely the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The project addressed how established scientific procedures can be aligned with new governance requirements of participation and knowledge inclusion for ensuring that expert knowledge and advice is accountable to both, academic and public criteria, i.e., scientific credibility and democratic legitimacy. The latter criteria, relating to democratic control of scientific procedures and advice, became an underlying dimension of the research project. This was explored and investigated through participatory observations in various ICES’ workshops and working groups (WGs). We developed our central research question – how tensions between credibility and legitimacy manifest themselves and get resolved – into more detailed and fine-grained sub-themes and questions. The first sub-theme was developed in work-package (WP) 1, in which we applied substantial literature reviews of theoretical, conceptual, and empirical research from various sub-fields to investigate scientific advisory procedures in ICES and its role vis-à-vis policy- and decision-making. This work helped to detail the ethnographic fieldwork and research questions and to specify data collection approaches for participatory observations, document research and interviews. The main outcome of WP1 is a journal article manuscript on the role of science as policy advisor, focusing on a recently developed guide for advisory products and principles in ICES (see 2.1 below). The empirical investigations of the project, conducted in WP2, focused on two main dimensions: 1) a more detailed analysis of the historical developments and major shifts in the framing and perception of ICES’ advisory role and function (“from normative to exploratory advice”, see below) and 2) an exploration of the tensions between formalisation and ad-hoc adjustments in current advisory practices in ICES (see 2.2 below).
Finally, as part of a synthesising stage (WP3), we started to investigate the specific case of this project – ICES and its role in fisheries and marine governance – in a wider perspective. This included conceptual work on stakeholder participation and knowledge inclusion connected to synthesis work from two major EU projects (Linke et al. 2020; Holm et al. 2020a&b) and comparative research on scientific advisory practices of ICES and its counterparts in climate and biodiversity governance (IPCC & IPBES respectively, see 2.3 below).

2. Three important results
2.1 Roles of scientific advice
This part of the project (conducted under WP1) focused on the role of scientific advice vis-à-vis policy- and decision-making using a new guide of ICES advice from 2021 as empirical material. This task became an extensive writing and difficult publication process (Linke et al.; currently the article is under review in Marine Policy). The current version of the paper focuses on the questions: Which role should science take when informing policy and politics? Should science have its own normative perspective about the issue it provides advise on? Or should science be as distant and impartial as possible from the value and policy context of the issue at stake? The paper attends to a hitherto underexplored “theory-practice gap” by investigating concrete advisory practices using theoretical concepts and stylised models to identify, interpret and discuss the role of scientific advice for policy. We show how ICES takes different roles for different contexts in which it provides advice. The study provides lessons on how different forms of advice can be developed through structured processes that help to bridge the boundary between science and policy. It thereby contributes to an improved understanding of how to frame the normative role of science vs policy and politics and how to align, in practice, the production of scientific advice in the context of external demands for its usability.

2.2 Formalization and separation in the science-policy interfaces
Sundqvist and colleagues (2015) proposed the terms “formalisation” and “separation” to capture two essential dimensions of organising science-policy interfaces. While formalization involves the procedures for assessing and summarizing research for policy, separation concerns the affiliation and roles of those involved in advisory activities. In Nielsen et al. (a, in prep.), we contribute to the research agenda that Sundqvist et al. have outlined with a longitudinal study of the changes in these two dimensions within a single advisory organisation (ICES), devoting attention to the motives that were articulated to underpin these changes. Our study focuses on major changes in the practices of providing fisheries advice that took place in the early 1980s, which a contemporary chair of ICES’ Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management characterized as involving a shift “from normative to explorative advice”. We find that two reciprocal shifts took place in the same period. While there was a reduction in “separation”, the degree of formalisation was increased. We argue that ICES fisheries advice represents a context that required and lends itself to extensive formalisation of the advisory format. Formalisation strategies supported a development of science-policy boundary between ICES and its clients, which both parties generally perceive as workable.
Formalization is a key resource for advisory orgnisations such as ICES as it can help to increase the consistency and efficiency of the advisory process but has received limited attention. In Nielsen et al. (b, in prep.), we study contemporary approaches to formalization in ICES fisheries assessment and advice. We describe how ICES practitioners relate to a trade-off with formalization: On the one hand, the application of formalized procedures for assessment and advice provide for consistency, rigor and transparency. On the other hand, formalization may constrain opportunities to consider the particularities of the stock in question. How and to what extent is formalization adequate, when and how does it become excessive? When should practitioners stick to the guidelines and when and how can exceptions be justified? Lessons from ICES’ handling of formalization of the advisory process may be useful for other context where there is a close linkage between the provision of scientific advice and political decision making.
This empirical research was based on extensive document studies, participatory observations, and interviews (individual and focus group interviews) with persons in current or previous leading roles in the advisory committee of ICES and with researchers in ICES’ Baltic Fisheries Assessment Working Group.

2.3 ICES advisory practice in a broader and comparative perspective
As mentioned above, project members Linke and Holm engaged in additional research that put ICES’ advisory practices into a broader perspective. First, we got the opportunity to contribute with our research expertise and experience in a publication from two large EU projects (GAP 1&2: “Bridging the gap between science, stakeholders and policy makers”) and prepared and published the editorial volume “Collaborative Research in Fisheries” (Holm et al. 2020b) including two chapters lead by Linke and Holm respectively. In addition, Linke started a new comparative research agenda that attempts to create new insights by comparing ICES with other environmental governance arenas such as climate and biodiversity. This work resulted in two additional journal articles from this project (De Dona & Linke 2022; Sundqvist & Linke forthcoming).

3. New research questions generated by the project
Our research highlights the needs for adapting scientific advice to actual contexts, which area always established in historically path-dependent institutional systems. New research should address and further explore the resulting advisory dilemmas in more detail (e.g. of formalisation and separation of advice), both in fisheries and marine governance, as well as comparatively by consulting other areas like climate, biodiversity or land and soil governance. While much research exists on the delivering side of scientific advice, more insights are needed from the hitherto underexplored receiving end of scientific advice: how managers and policymakers view and perceive the usefulness and usability of scientific advice.

4. International dimension of the project
This project was an international collaboration between the Universities of Gothenburg and Tromsø. It involved intense participation and membership in various ICES working groups, resulting in joint presentations and a publication (Clay et al. forthcoming). Furthermore, the project was tightly linked to EU-wide collaborations, for example via the GAP project publication (Holm et al. 2020b) or the Centre for Maritime Research (

5. Communication of research outside the scientific community
Results are communicated on the project homepage: Furthermore, project participants have been active in public talks, interviews, and ICES’ public communication, e.g., by an invited comment on the new ICES advice framework (included in press release 17.12.2020):
Grant administrator
University of Gothenburg
Reference number
SEK 3,149,000
RJ Projects
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified