Science for Policy in Estonia: Current Situation, Opportunities, Perspectives
The strategic branches of the contacts between the science landscape and the state are the (national) policy for science and science for policy.
In Estonia, the shaping and implementation of policy for science has been resolved at the level of legislation, distribution of mandates, various mechanisms and also best practices. Science for policy, however, is not defined at the level of law. It includes a set of measures and institutions through which the knowledge accumulated in the academic community is consolidated into a component of political and economic decision-making processes.
The mechanism of science for policy has been established as a state institution mainly in the Anglo-Saxon countries. In different countries, it is organised differently and plays a different role. The European Commission is supported by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM). The science for policy ecosystem in Estonia is made up of three national level institutions: the Research and Development Council, the Foresight Centre and the Academy of Sciences. The Government, the President and the ministries are supported by research advisers and several specialised institutions. Ad hoc advisory councils, like the Scientific Advisory Board for COVID-19 Prevention that consists of top-level scientists and experts, have a major role.
From an external (JRC) point of view, science for policy in Estonia mainly functions in a fragmented, non-institutionalised form. The personal contacts of society’s leading figures and top scientists play a significant role. The main bottlenecks are the widespread fragmentation of the whole system (in the context of both the academic community and the policy level), the modest support from the ministries and the lack of specialists with the necessary competences. Therefore, the message of scientists is often of low priority.
The leading researchers of the European Commission are of the opinion that the advice should be based on the best knowledge, be public and transparent and come from an authorised adviser. The principle of openness of advice is in conflict with the Constitution of Estonia: the sittings of the Government are closed unless the Government decides otherwise. The materials presented to the Government also do not have to be public.
The JRC analysis sends a clear signal that the system of science for policy in Estonia needs both resources and a mandate. Creation of a completely new structure does not seem reasonable. Most probably, clarifying of the roles and mandates and coordination of the existing forms and institutions will be sufficient. It would be sensible to regulate how advisory councils are set up, both in normal situations and in situations requiring an operational response: what their mandate, responsibilities and forms of work, as well as how publicity and communication of advice are organised. The Netherlands model is recommended as a possible example. In its scientific advisory board on Government policies, formed of research practitioners, social, economic and legal researchers have an important role. As an alternative, the JRC analysis recommends considering institutionalisation of the initiative coming from the research community and scientific institutions.