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

25 January 2023
Science-policy interface
Knowledge co-production
European policy
Scientific ethnography
Waylen KA et al.

Cite as: Waylen KA, Blackstock KL, Matthews KB, Juarez-Bourke A, Hague A, Wardell-Johnson D, Miller D, Kovacic Z, Völker T, Guimarães Pereira  & Giampietro M (2023), ‘Post-normal science in practice: Reflections from scientific experts working on the European agri-food policy nexus’, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 141, pp. 158-167, DOI:

Open access: The article is available in gold open access under the Creative Commons CC-BY license. See also ZENODO repository,

Abstract: 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.


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