Overcoming Barriers to Linking Research and Policy


Beginning with the end of the Cold War, a relatively small but growing number of scholars began to study the links between environmental change, conflict, peace, and evolving notions of security. Recognition of these ties was not new, but as the weight of superpower confrontation lifted and new foreign policy dynamics unfolded across the world, an expanded range of issues and research tools emerged.

Thirty years later, the field of environment and security research has expanded further to include robust research on conflict, peacebuilding, protests, and even the assassinations of environmental leaders. The range of environmental issues, relatively limited at the start, is more diversified and integrates the context of climate change.

Despite this growth in topics, methods and contributors, one question remains. Are there still significant gaps in the disciplinary or thematic communities actively engaged in understanding the links between environmental change and security?

This question is at the heart of a recent effort led by Geoff Dabelko, a professor at Ohio University’s Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs and senior adviser to the ECSP. With support from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Integrative Activities, members of the Dabelko Research Group assessed the relevance of mainstream environmental science to national security communities.

Among many scientists, the presumption is that traditional security institutions focus narrowly on issues of war and peace with little connection to environmental science disciplinary research. To interrogate this hypothesis, Dabelko appealed to three distinct communities: environmental scientists, national security practitioners, and applied environmental and security researchers. While initially focusing on a narrower, more traditional view of security, participants in all three groups consistently emphasized a broader view of security. During the project, a number of takeaways emerged. (See video below)

Reconciling research-driven environmental science agendas with rapidly changing security landscapes: There is a common misconception that research-driven environmental science is not connected or relevant to the rapidly changing world of security, where actors routinely respond to short-term crises.

Many outside the security community assume that it is homogeneous and exclusively focused on the use of force. Yet senior security leaders have made it clear that the world of security is actually made up of many communities that contain a plethora of cultures, concerns, and tools. While many environmental scientists are not engaged in dialogue with security institutions, there are research efforts – often funded by traditional federal science funding institutions – that resonate with security actors. Security. “The issues that matter and the concerns that interest national security practitioners go well beyond issues of war and peace in today’s crises,” says Dabelko.

Support applied research in environment and security: While not without methodological limitations, this often interdisciplinary work has proven valuable to security practitioners. Yet, until now, research on environment and security has been mainly based on social sciences or on interdisciplinary approaches that significantly include social sciences. These areas receive only a small fraction of public funding devoted to environmental science research, and grants tend to be short-term and project-specific. Consequently, basic research and contract research – where research questions are largely predetermined and long-term investments in research infrastructure are less common – account for a higher proportion of funding sources for explicit research on environment and safety.

Overcoming Barriers to the Engagement of Environmental Scientists with Security Practitioners: Such interactions do not concern all scientists and often cross the limits of what scientists know how to do, want to do or are encouraged to do. For scientists looking to engage across sectors, participants identified the relatively modest cost of bespoke platforms as a worthwhile investment – ​​platforms where these communities can connect to exchange research and engage in productive dialogues. without fear of influencing the agendas of others or introducing platforms (real or real perceived) transactional interactions.

Looking to the future, Dabelko notes the importance of identifying sustained funding streams for research that connects these communities. “We will continue to facilitate a greater exchange between these worlds, often delving into specific topics and geographies where security actors have practical questions, and scientists may have insights that are more relevant than they might be. think,” he said.

winter wilson is a senior double major in environmental studies and journalism at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College, and is currently a Voinovich Fellow with the Dabelko Research Group.

Sources: Ohio University, Dabelko Research Group, Oregon State University

Photo credit: Image taken from images by Winter Wilson.


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