Reflections from the 6th European Environmental Evaluators Network forum: Betheney Wills, CECAN PhD Researcher
On the 23rd and 24th November 2017 members of the CECAN team, Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Clare Twigger-Ross and myself attended the EEEN conference in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Society in Edinburgh. Facilitated by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), civil servants from environment agencies, consultants, practitioners and academics came together to share experiences and ideas for the future of environmental policy evaluation.
The conference’s theme – Evaluating Innovation in Environmental Protection and Sustainability – considered whether evaluation is evolving in line with the societal and environmental challenges policy faces. Participants were asked to keep the following questions in mind over the two days;
How do we evaluate innovation and how do we innovate in evaluation?
There was a variety of talks and subsequent discussions around topics including the circular economy, EU laws, the use of economic mechanisms, government policy, low-carbon incentives and innovation.
Laura Burke, the Director of the Environment Protection Agency, Ireland discussed the need for clear communication channels between research and policy. Explaining the value in telling stories, enabling relationships and trust to build in collaborative working. She also spoke of using the right type of data to aid policy-making and the need for acceptance of uncertainty within data. A point revisited in a subsequent talk by Daniel Stunell (Zero Waste Scotland) who said, uncertainty needs to be part of a mutual understanding, moving towards what really matters. Uncertainty can be broken down to, what we are uncertain about, where is the uncertainty, do we have best available evidence and if not what can we do with what data we have?
The cartoon on the right was shown to illustrate this point.
Another keynote speaker was Phil Wynn Owen, the Dean of the European Court of Auditors (ECA). He detailed the seven main challenges facing the ECA; governance, energy transition, adaption, financing, research innovation, evidence-based policy and citizen’s involvement. Focusing on these challenges to manage the future sustainable use of natural resources. Noted was the urgent need for future financing to come from both public and private sources, with citizens paying for transitions towards a sustainable future. What actions the ECA takes to tackle these challenges will be interesting to follow.
CECAN ran a session on ‘Innovations in instrument evaluation- integrating complexity into environmental policy evaluation’. Discussing the topic of complexity in light of the opportunities it can provide generated stimulating discussion.
In the closing remarks, using the concept of complexity to shape the evaluation approach was said to be beneficial to uncover different elements and connections. Systems thinking and mapping were noted as potential methods to explore.
Away from the sessions, I had an encouraging conversation around ocean plastics and citizen science with Calum Duncan and Catherine Gemmell from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Scotland and Hans Bruyninckx, Director of the European Environment Agency. MCS have used data collected on beach cleans by local citizens to back a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland. Discussion continued on how using technology, in the form of mobile apps, could help citizens in capturing and storing data automatically.
The conference talks reflected the current need for radical change in environmental policy and the wider policy space, promoting adaptive thinking in the evaluative community.
At next year’s forum, I hope to have preliminary findings from my PhD to add to the knowledge within environmental policy evaluation research.
Photo: Left to right, Betheney Wills, Hans Bruyninckx and Calum Duncan.
For more information on citizen science and plastic pollution see:
For more information on the EEEN forum see: