Tag Archive | Energy democracy

Gazing through the looking glass: the black box of policy

Policy development is usually a mix of several different factors coming together; it is often contextual and temporal. The condition in which policy is created is often a process that is not well understood. Marmot (2004) highlights the bilateral interactions between policy makers and researchers – he goes on to editorialize the question: “Evidence based policy or policy based evidence?”. His example of policy surrounding alcohol control in the UK exasperates the notion that policy usually requires both evidence and desire of policy makers to take action. His suggestion is that there are “two issues: what the science shows and its policy implications” (Marmot, 907). Inherent in this suggestion is that scientists no matter how apolitical they may want to stay they too are actors in the development of policy.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a working group about climate change, and as many of us can attest to the implication of climate change are ever-present. Climate Change is beginning to impact our environment, resulting in changes that we cannot predict. Our health, our work, our social life and mental well-being are all at risk when considering the impacts of Climate Change. The scientific evidence is alarmingly suggesting that we are at a state of emergency (IPCC, 2013; ITF, 2010), so why is no one concerned? Why do the scientists insist on publishing more damming reports but the action (government intervention in the form of policy) required to discuss this devastation remain fragmented and weak. I am not suggesting that there is not some feel good stories – refer to the major shifts to public transport and reduction in fossil fuel in Curitiba, Columbia (UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC, 2008) or the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy group working on a publicly owned transition to a low-carbon economy (Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, 2013). Some heavily committed people around the world are screaming at the rest of us, and we can’t seem to muster up the courage to join them. At this point we can look to government for leadership but the need for personal action is also required and to that end to mobilize the kind of change that is being suggested we must all act, at all levels. This is an example where the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly calling for action but the action required is not being taken up by policy makers.


Photo credit: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100188288/the-us-election-has-put-climate-change-back-on-the-political-agenda/

This lack of action can be seen as somewhat frustrating for many of us, but as Straus & Jones (2004) point out “we now have too many sources of evidence compiled with a variable mix of scientific rigor and opinion, resulting in confusing messages” (987). For every academic publication, there are others that will contradict or interpret the research differently. Getting back to the original focus surrounding policy, I think that it begs the question, how is policy created and how do we make sure that it is created in a way that will maximize the most positive influence for all of us. Future research need to focus on how research can translate into best practice. From a practical response, I also believe that it is time that scientist stop pretending that they are apolitical – and that they start taking more responsibility through action for their findings.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2013). Group 1: Report 5. Retrieved from http://www.cllimatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5_WGI-12Doc2b_FinalDraft_All.pdf

International Transport Workers Federation (2010). Discussion Document: Transport workers and climate change: Towards sustainable, low-carbon mobility.

Marmot, M. (2004). Evidence based policy or policy based evidence?: Willingness to take action influences the view of the evidence – look at alcohol. British Medical Journal, 328, 7445, 906-907.

Straus, S., & Jones, G. (2004). What has evidence based medicine done for us? It has given us a good start, but much remains to be done. British Medical Journal, 329, 7473, 987-988.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. (2013). About the initiative. Retrieved from: http://www.energydemocracyinitiative.org

UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC. (2008). Green jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world.


Engaging stakeholders

The articles reviewed this week explored the definitions, and started to outline the field of KT. As Hanlon et al. (2011) illustrate the problems faced by researchers is how “can we find a way to think and act effectively in potentially overwhelming circumstances” (336). The environment is a prime example, faced by a vast problem affecting every facet of human life; there are so many ways to look at this problem. The questions can be asked and researched from every discipline. Not to mention that academic research is not the only stakeholder in this issue. We have the scientific evidence that shows the ‘knowledge’ about global warming exist but have yet to facilitate adequate action. This gap from scientific evidence to real action is exactly what the science of KT is trying to explore. 

A reasonable starting point might be to acknowledge that “[i]mplicit in what is meant by knowledge is primarily scientific research” (Graham et al., 14). The assumption that knowledge is brought about by scientific research is not only debatable, but brings into question many critiques of scientific research, the bias and elitism that is also accompanied with this type of ‘knowledge creation’. Who is the creator and the consumer, and is this unilateral interaction or is it more effective as a consensual exchange.

Labour unions are always interested in ways to protect and create jobs; it is also in the best interest of the environment, the public, and workers to address the need for emerging green economy.  Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is “is a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers’ rights and protections” (Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Para 1). At the table are labour and environmental academics and union leaders.

This is an example of academics and community leaders addressing a topic together, in a sense community based knowledge translation . Together the message that environmental reform may be not only in the best interest of our planet but is also a way in which unions can re-emerge as leaders and play an active role in our transfer to a new green based economy. The initiative also provides an opportunity for stakeholders to share their current successes and struggles in mobilizing green efforts on the ground.

The success of an idea is not always based on its merit – the political, economic, social environments influence the adaption of many changes. In the case of the environment, research is showing that our planet is in crisis, yet the skeptics are currently winning the debate. As stated Atul Gawande’s recent article in the New Yorker (Gwande, 2013) – the adjustment of a social norm is not only difficult but sometimes things that one would expect to change quickly are in fact much more difficult that we could ever predict. Labour unions have the unique opportunity to provide a gateway to engage large employers in the discussion, as alleged by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – we are all “stewards” of this earth, and it is time for us all to take responsibility for our role. The environmental crisis can be address by any number of disciplines, however finding the right agent to disseminate and take action on the information we have seems to offer the greatest challenge.

Works cited:

CUPE. (2013). Working harmoniously on the earth: CUPE’s National Environmental Policy. Retrieved from: http://cupe.ca/updir/Working_harmoniously_on_the_Earth_-_FINAL.pdf

Graham, ID et al. (2011). Lost in knowledge translation: time for a map?. The Journal of Continuing ducation in the Health Profession, 26(1), 13-24.

Gwande, Atul. Slow ideas: why innvations don’t always catch on. New Yorker, July 29, 2013.

Hanlon, P., et al. (2011). Learning our way into the future public health: a proposition. Journal of Public Health, 33 (3), 335-342.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. (2013). About the Initiative. Retrieved from: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/about-initiative/