Science sparring

Science sparring is a dialogical support action between researchers and decision-makers designed to strengthen the knowledge base for policy-making.

Science sparring draws on red teaming, which is utilised in cybersecurity, intelligence, and foresight work. It provides interactive scientific support between researchers and decision-makers to strengthen the knowledge base for policy-making. 

Science sparring breaks down the traditional ‘government asks, scientists answer’ model. Rather than asking specific questions, the interaction is built on existing documents and data, which are used as a basis for facilitated discussion between scientists and policy-makers.

This model is our response to the drafters’ desire for a dialogical support. It is particularly suited to large and multidisciplinary policy making projects, where defining both the questions, answers and the overall situation of existing scientific knowledge in a collaborative way can bring additional value.

We have carried out science sparring exercises with ministries, but the approach can also be used and applied at other levels of decision-making.

Science sparring in practice

1. Planning | We start by working with the ministry’s policy makers to define the objectives and focus areas, what data can be used, and the scope and timing of the dialogue exercise.

For example, a science sparring exercise can be used to clarify the societal challenges of a legislative project, to assess the knowledge base, to identify knowledge gaps or to assess the impact of proposed measures.

2. Researcher identification | We identify researchers suitable for the team, regardless of organisational boundaries. The number of researchers in a single session has varied from four to ten.

3. Workshop preparation | Together with the policy makers, we plan the specific questions on which the workshops will focus. These will also be carefully discussed with the researchers so that they are prepared and know what is expected of them.

4. Facilitated workshops | In these workshops, researchers give presentations on agreed topics, comment on the content of the preparatory documents and discuss with each other and the policy makers. The workshops aim at an open, critical and constructive discussion. The knowledge broker guides the discussion and manages the timetable, allowing other participants to focus on the substance.

The final product of the workshops has varied: in some cases the researchers have formulated joint messages to the working group responsible for the legislative project at the end of the workshops, in other cases the researchers have produced their own written summaries, and in other cases the final product has been the discussion in the workshops.

Benefits for the different stakeholders

  • Policy makers have praised the opportunity to discuss in peace with a multidisciplinary and well-selected group of experts. This gives them a broad external perspective on the state of the preparation and its direction. In particular, they have appreciated the openly critical but constructive approach of the researchers.
  • For the researchers, the only benefit has not only been to promote the effectiveness of their own research, but they have also learned a lot about the realities of policy-making and gained new ideas and contacts that are useful for their own work. They have also found discussions with researchers from other disciplines, for example, to be valuable.
  • Both researchers and policy makers have appreciated the input of the knowledge brokers in planning the workshops, identifying and briefing the researchers and facilitating the workshops. This made their participation effortless.

The science sparring workshops we have run

To date, we have conducted science sparring with six ministries:

  • Evaluation of climate effects, the Ministry of Environment, January 2020
  • Strategy of the public governance, the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Finnish Municipalities, March–September 2020
  • National plan for transportation system, Ministry of Transport and Communication, June–August 2020
  • Reformation of the nature conservation, the Ministry of Environment, June 2020 – March 2021
  • Roadmap for the fossil free transportation, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, June 2021
  • Architectural political program, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Environment, August–October 2021
  • Climate change adaptation programme, the Ministry Agriculture and Forestry, spring 2022

Science sparring has also been used and developed by Forum for the Environmental Information, the Urban Academy and the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies.

More about science sparring

Watch or listen, presentation about Scientific Red Teams by Jaakko Kuosmanen in a webinar series of European University Associationin in June 2022.

If you are interested in the Science sparring, please contact