Original Research

Scientific assessments: Matching the process to the problem

Robert J. Scholes, Gregory O. Schreiner, Luanita Snyman-Van der Walt
Bothalia | Vol 47, No 2 | a2144 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/abc.v47i2.2144 | © 2017 Robert J. Scholes, Gregory O. Schreiner, Luanita Snyman-Van der Walt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 August 2016 | Published: 31 March 2017

About the author(s)

Robert J. Scholes, Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Gregory O. Schreiner, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa
Luanita Snyman-Van der Walt, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa


Background: The science–policy interface process – known as a ‘scientific assessment’ – has risen to prominence in the past few decades. Complex assessments are appropriate for issues which are both technically complicated, multifaceted and of high societal interest. There is increasing interest from the research community that studies biological invasions to undertake such an assessment.
Objectives: Providing the relevant background and context, the article describes key principles and steps for designing, planning, resourcing and executing such a process, as well as providing evidence of high-impact assessments enhancing scientific careers.
Method: Experience from international and national assessments, most recently the South African scientific assessment for the Shale Gas Development in the Central Karoo, was used to develop this guiding generic template for practitioners. Analyses of researcher publication performances were undertaken to determine the benefit of being involved in assessments.
Results: The key success factors for assessments mostly relate to adherence to ‘process’ and ‘governance’ aspects, for which scientists are sometimes ill-equipped. As regards publication outputs, authors involved in assessment processes demonstrated higher H-indices than their environmental scientist peers. We have suggested causal explanations for this.
Conclusion: Effectively designed and managed assessments provide the platform for the ‘co-production of knowledge’ – an iterative and collaborative process involving scientists, stakeholders and policymakers. This increases scientific impact in the society–policy domain. While scientists seem concerned that effort directed towards assessments comes at the detriment of scientific credibility and productivity, we have presented data that suggest the opposite.


Assessment; science-policy interface


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