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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Imbued meaning : science-policy interactions in the intergovernmental panel on climate change Shaw, Alison


The proliferation of scientific information in the international policy sphere has increased with the proliferation of global environmental problems. The conventional transfer of scientific information becomes increasingly complex in the international sphere where the implications of global environmental problems are severe and where divergent values around the type of information considered sufficient and adequate for policy action lead to differentiated governmental responses. Constructivist science-policy scholarship has challenged the unidirectional transfer of science into policy suggesting that the sociopolitical sphere plays a significant role in determining the value, legitimacy and relevance of science. Scholarship in the social studies of science goes further to argue that scientific knowledge itself is influenced by social and cultural factors, bringing the status of scientific knowledge as objective and neutral into question. This dissertation utilizes these two literature areas in order to derive an interactionist model of science-policy. A pragmatic framework is developed to focus on scientific processes in the policy sphere rather than on scientific content for addressing problems of science in policy. The proposition of this research is that processes that facilitate science-policy interaction contribute to the co-production of credible and legitimate policy relevant scientific information. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is used as a case study and is examined using this interactionist model. The IPCC was initiated in 1988 to interface with the international governmental community. The procedural adaptations that have taken place over the course of the past three IPCC iterations (1990, 1996, 2001) have increased governmental involvement in securing the legitimacy of the information produced and have indirectly led to considerable science-policy interaction. Two boundary processes, the review and approval processes, offered a sophisticated way for the user community (governments) to expose different and contradictory value frameworks while interrogating the underlying values and policy biases embedded in the science. The third boundary process, the policy relevant scientific questions, is viewed as a step in the direction of supporting an interactionist model of science-policy. This research shows that science-policy interaction in the IPCC process has moved in the direction of a constructivist understanding without having been framed that way. Recommendations are made for ways to move from a focus on what is referred to here as weak co-production in the IPCC to the strong co-production of policy relevant scientific information in order to derive climate change information that is both authorized and imbued with meaning.

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