Francesca Pellizzato, European Chemicals Agency and Mark Egsmose, European Food Safety Authority
Representatives from academia, government and business sectors convened during the SETAC Europe 29th Annual Meeting, which was held from 26–30 May in Helsinki, Finland, to discuss actual and perceived problems related to transfer of science to regulation.
While significant efforts are made in the research fields, many results considered important by researchers are not being used by regulators. The fact that research information is available does not necessarily mean that this information is then used and applied by regulators and decision-makers. Despite the fact that the value of research evidence as a basis for decision-making is undisputed, the rate at which such evidence is incorporated into decision-making is still unsatisfactory and needs improvement.
One of the eight strategic goals defined and approved by the SETAC Europe Council for the 2018–2020 period is to facilitate the optimization of processes and rates of transfer of science into regulation by improving interactions between stakeholders and regulatory bodies. The ultimate aim of this strategic goal is to come up with a concrete action plan within SETAC activities to improve the transfer of science into regulation. The meeting in Helsinki was the first step in gathering ideas and success stories to help build such an action plan and understand how SETAC can contribute to this aim.
The participants gathered at an informal set-up that allowed us to brainstorm on the topic. The participants were invited to reflect on successful or not-so-successful cases of transfer of science into regulation. The idea was to trace back specific topics, such as endocrine disruption, microplastics and nano-materials, and remember the developments these topics have gone through from the moment they emerged. Participants were asked to focus on the role that SETAC Special Science Symposiums (SESSSes), workshops, Focused Topic Meetings, Pellston Workshops® or sessions at annual meetings have played in facilitating, promoting and improving the transfer of science into policy, and the impact these meetings had on the development of guidance and regulation. If progress was not made as a result of these activities and meetings, what were the obstacles and what can SETAC do to make these meetings more effective to facilitate this transfer?
There was consensus on the fact that there is often considerable time lag in the transfer of science into regulation, and it can take up to 10–15 years to achieve it in some cases. However, there are success stories where this transfer has been implemented faster. A faster transfer is often due to an urgent need from policymakers and decision-makers in areas where no guidance or only outdated guidance is available.
The role of SETAC in facilitating this transfer was discussed. How fast is SETAC in taking up emerging issues? SETAC is already doing a horizon scanning project, but how does that relate to the regulatory needs? According to the views expressed by the participants, SETAC seems to be more useful in identifying in advance good science that is ready to be transferred into regulation, but it does not work so well under pressure, such as for emerging issues. Finding ways to be more effective when dealing with urgent and emerging issues should be considered further.
Another point was raised on how effective are we as researchers in conveying our message and how scientists could improve in communicating the benefit of their research for use in regulation. Many researchers could put more emphasis on the core aim of their research (problem formulation) and the potential regulatory dimension their research might have. Also, there is a need to train students for what is needed for science to be useful in regulation and how regulatory bodies operate.
Concrete proposals on how SETAC can facilitate the transfer of science to regulation came up at the meeting. Pellston Workshops® are the highest standard type of forum, but there are other options too, including for example, technical workshops. The idea of a SESSS express (fast track) was raised as potential way to tackle emerging issues and avoid SETAC to be a blocker and instead act as a facilitator. SESSSes are, however, a one-off event. Therefore, the corresponding interest group should take on the topic and tasks after SESSSes. It was suggested that we should not focus only on SESSSes, there are other valuable activities within SETAC, such as workshops, annual meetings, as well as journals and other publications.
It was recognized that there are different pull and push strategies that influence when scientific topics are transferred into regulation, and they depend on the country and on the guidance needs (either from the general public or regulators). Push strategies usually evolve from development of science and methodologies, while pull strategies usually originate from decision-makers due to political pressure.
Concerning communication, it was proposed to invite more journalists as a way to get more visibility and increase the pressure to speed up the transfer of science into regulation. Another idea that came up was to send delegations in the host country of the annual SETAC meeting to meet with the regulators in the country to explain what SETAC is doing and what are the topics covered (known as door knocking policy in the US). This was already successfully done at the SETAC Europe annual meeting in 2012 in Berlin. In 2017 in Brussels, a round-table discussion was held with representatives from the European Commission and other local regulators, industry and academia to learn about their vision of top priority horizon-scanning topics.
The meeting successfully started the discussion around the topic of transfer of science to regulation, and already some good concrete proposals on how this transfer could be improved were put forward. If you have any additional ideas how this can be done, please share them with us. Please let us know if you would like to contribute and be involved. You can help us shape the action plan of the transfer of science to regulation!
The positions and opinions in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of ECHA and EFSA.