Meeting the Challenges of Policy-Relevant Science: Bridging Theory and Practice


Elisabeth A. Graffy focuses on policy development and its interaction with organizational and societal change, particularly as related to agriculture, environment, and the sustainability of natural resources (and of the human communities that depend on them). She has given public presentations nationwide on the relationship between science and policy. She has served in state, city, international, and federal positions, most recently with the U.S. Congress and the Department of the Interior. Her writings appear in many reports and in articles that have appeared in Society and Natural Resources, the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, and other publications.


Ongoing public debate about the role of science in policy making signifies the importance of advancing theory and practice in the field. Indeed, assumptions about the science–policy nexus hold direct implications for how this interface is managed. A useful lens on contemporary themes is offered by the experience of a federal environmental science program that launched an ambitious effort to enhance capacity for policy relevance while protecting a commitment to sound, impartial scientific inquiry. This was achieved by developing an explicit conceptual model and implementing corresponding strategies that addressed critical gaps in capacity for policy-relevant research, analysis, and communication while supporting existing capacities. This article describes and evaluates the capacity-building effort from the dual perspectives of deepening an understanding of successful practice in the field and advancing a conceptual understanding of the science–policy nexus. It illustrates the challenges facing practitioners and the need for greater interaction between theory and practice.