Uncertainty and disagreement around the causes of problems or the likely efficacy of various solutions cloud many public policy disputes. Stakeholders often turn to science for a solution, hoping that definitive answers will be found. Unfortunately, scientific data often complicate rather than clarify, as differences in interpretation or methodological preferences lead to different answers. Furthermore, experts and other stakeholders perceive important factors like risk differently, and questions of legitimacy regularly enter the equation.
The Program on Negotiation promotes techniques like ‘joint fact-finding’ and ‘decision analysis’ to help groups work through science-intensive policy disputes. Science still plays a very important part, but questions around such things as method, legitimacy, valuation and interpretation, all in the face of conflicting interests, are put on the table and discussed, and research is often jointly commissioned.
Materials in the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) introduce alternative approaches to working through science-intensive policy disputes. For example, in the Dioxin: Waste to Energy Game proponents of a new incinerator believe it will solve the city’s garbage problem with little risk while opponents are concerned about the dioxin-related health risks. A group of scientists with various opinions on the matter is assembled to draft recommendations, raising issues around which metrics to use, uncertainty, legitimacy and risk perception. Various books by PON-affiliated authors are also available to guide parties through science-intensive policy disputes. For example, Negotiating Environmental Agreements includes case studies on various environmental policy disputes in which debates around the science played a prominent role.