Published January 25, 2023 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Post-normal science in practice: Reflections from scientific experts working on the European agri-food policy nexus

  • 1. The James Hutton Institute
  • 2. University of Bergen
  • 3. Joint Research Center of the European Commission
  • 4. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona & Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats


Post-Normal Science (PNS) emphasises the need for scientists and policy-makers to iteratively co-analyse and learn together, as part of an extended peer community. However, the roles and implications for scientific experts when interacting with policy-makers are not well understood. Informed by insights from science and technology studies (STS) on modalities of interaction and the multiple potential roles of experts, we reflect on our experiences as scientific experts working on European agricultural policy within the interdisciplinary H2020 MAGIC project. We aimed to analyse and facilitate science-policy dialogue on a variety of European sustainability challenges. Whilst we achieved stimulating interactions on the nexus of issues associated with sustainable agriculture, our experiences did not fully match our deliberative vision. In part this was due to the varied constraints and reactions of policy-makers: many had limited remit for engagement, some expressed scientists should act as ‘fact’ providers in support of current tasks; others contested scientific analyses when these implied policy approaches were insufficient. Our own roles and reactions also varied across the scientific team and over time: from attempting to foster relationships, to emphasising our relevance to their tasks, or making stronger judgements. This dynamic mix was at times personally uncomfortable and challenging. Navigating such processes needs explicit reflection on the potentially plural roles expected of scientific and other experts working on and for sustainability. Meanwhile, the persistent expectations and institutional constraints that underlie and constrain science-policy interactions need more recognition, including by policy institutions themselves.


The MAGIC project was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No. 689669, and James Hutton Institute researchers were also supported by the Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government, as part of the 2016–2022 Strategic Research Programme. MG acknowledges financial support by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) through the "María de Maeztu" program for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000940-M). This work reflects the authors' view only; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. We are grateful to all policy experts and other stakeholders who interacted with us, to Lorenzo Benini and Gary Polhill for feedback during manuscript development, and two anonymous reviewers.



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MAGIC – Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security 689669
European Commission