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Baltic Sea Centre's work highlighted as a good example of knowledge exchange

Knowledge exchange between marine scientists and policy makers contributes to informed policy decisions and sustainable management of the oceans. But what does it take for such knowledge exchange to be successful? This question has been analysed in a major international study, that highlights the work of the Baltic Sea Centre as a good example.

Personal relationships, good timing and the inclusion of many different stakeholders are some important factors that enable knowledge exchange between science and policy or management. This is the conclusion of the researchers behind the new study, Lessons from bright-spots for advancing knowledge exchange at the interface of marine science and policy. 

The 37 researchers analysed 25 'bright spots' – successful examples of knowledge exchange from around the world – and found that there are several common denominators behind their success. One important part is the personal factors, says Marie Löf, researcher at Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre who participated in the study.

 – Knowledge exchange is very much about relationships, bringing the right people together and building trust between them. Employees need to be committed and open to new ideas, and it's also important with diversity in the team, she says.

The availability of supportive and flexible funding, as well as political demand for the information, are other factors behind successful knowledge exchange. It is also important that there is public support for the issue and that there is a so-called open 'policy window'.

 – If major long-term political decisions have already been taken on a specific issue, it could mean it’s too late to try to reach politicians with important knowledge that concerns it, however relevant it may be, explains Marie Löf.


Contributed to ban on microplastics

Two examples of effective knowledge exchange at the Baltic Sea Centre are included in the study. One concerns microplastics, where the Centre, as one of several actors, communicated on a scientific basis about the risks and effects early on. Researchers and environmental analysts participated in multiple meetings with politicians, authorities, industry representatives and other stakeholders, compiled scientific knowledge in an easily accessible form and communicated in the media. Eventually, this led to Sweden introducing a national ban on microplastics in rinse-off personal care products.

 – This, in turn, contributed to the ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, proposing even broader restrictions on microplastics. I also believe that we have contributed to a greater awareness of microplastics as a pollutant, says Marie Löf, who has been actively working on the issue herself.

The other example is eutrophication, where the Baltic Sea Centre has worked for a long time to persuade decision-makers to invest in science-based measures.

 – Some measures may seem attractive because they are relatively easy to implement, but they are not the most effective in tackling eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, says Marie Löf.

 – Politicians have changed their minds and adapted party policies after meetings with us, and even the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management has become more nuanced on this issue.


Knowledge exchange is often ‘invisible’

Knowledge exchange is a long-term effort that is often rather invisible while it is going on, Marie Löf stresses.

 – It can ultimately have a big impact on policy decisions, but the result is often the sum of very many small interactions.

For the Baltic Sea Centre, knowledge exchange and the dissemination of knowledge and scientific results to different actors in society are key functions, and included in the centre's statutes.

– I think that more organisations should work in this way, but it takes time and resources and you have to be prepared to invest these. The success of the Baltic Sea Centre is very much based on the fact that our policy analysts have a long-term relationship with politicians and other stakeholders, and know what issues they are grappling with and can provide them with knowledge from a large network of researchers.

Another success factor of the Baltic Sea Centre has been its affiliation with Stockholm University, says Marie Löf.

 – We have no other agenda than to ensure that decisions are made on a scientific basis and that they lead to a better environment for the Baltic Sea.

About the study

The study Lessons from bright-spots for advancing knowledge exchange at the interface of marine science and policy was carried out by 37 researchers from different universities around the world. The work was led by Denis Karcher and a core team consisting of Chris Cvitanovic, Ingrid van Putten and Rebecca Colvin.

The researchers analysed 25 good examples of successful knowledge exchange between marine science and policy and management. All examples participated in a qualitative study. The study examined, among other things, what initiated the knowledge exchange, what its objectives were, how it was done, what was achieved and what contributed to its success.

The main factors that enabled knowledge exchange success were divided into five different groups: