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Working at the science-policy interface

Veterinary Record

The veterinary and scientific knowledge base for animal health is evolving rapidly, in line with improving technologies and faster access to better quality data. In parallel, there is an increasing public demand for the rapid translation of that knowledge into transparent, robust, evidence-based animal health policies. The translation of scientific research into policy or practice has been occurring with increasing intensity over recent years, but this has not always been considered unequivocally successful. Both the BSE crisis in the 1990s and the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001 have taught us that, without transparent, effective and explicit communication channels established between scientists, policymakers and individuals, there may be an irreparable erosion of public confidence in our animal health and food safety infrastructures. The Scudamore Review (Scudamore and Ross 2008), published after the 2007 FMD outbreak, highlighted the importance of these existing links between policymakers and scientists and rapid government access to such expertise in the face of an animal disease emergency. In 2006, the EPIC consortium (Epidemiology, Population Health and Infectious Disease Control) was established in Scotland, and since 2011, it has been funded by the Scottish Government as a Centre of Expertise (EPIC 2013). Within the EPIC model, the role of knowledge brokers has been explicitly included to facilitate the coordination and communication of information exchange and translation across the science-policy interface. Routine presence of these EPIC scientists in national Government offices and at national stakeholder meetings has resulted in increased recognition of knowledge brokers within the agricultural sector and has provided opportunities to develop trusted relationships and expertise outwith disease outbreaks. This has undoubtedly improved our ability to contribute evidence to inform emerging animal health policy priorities in Scotland. Even though it is clear that not all scientists or academic institutions place the same importance on (or adequately reward) the role of knowledge brokers, this culture is gradually changing (Clayton and Culshaw 2005). The issues that we raise in this article are topical (Sutherland and others 2013) and are derived from our personal experience gained in a single national setting (Scotland), but we believe that they resonate well beyond national and policy boundaries.