Science advice for energy policy: Who’s afraid of epistemic diversity?

What are the challenges in organising, generating and absorbing interdisciplinary science for policy? These key challenges of science advice, revealed by the pandemic, were the focus of a session co-organised by SAPEA, the European Commission Joint Research Centre and the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors as part of the Fourth International Conference on Science Advice to Governments in Québec, Canada.

Focusing on how scientific evidence and advice can help address complex challenges in the field of energy policy, the session will be centred on a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspective dialogue via an innovative, interactive design. The aim is to practically demonstrate the need for interdisciplinary knowledge (sociology, economics, behavioural science, engineering, geosciences, etc.) to inform policy, the varying starting points and approaches of these disciplines, and the challenge of integrating them to become useful for policymakers.

A brief reflection on how complex policy challenges require interdisciplinary scientific advice and input, and what questions energy policymakers concretely grapple with, will set the scene for the session. Invited scientists from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds, and anyone from the audience who wants to join in, will have the opportunity to share ideas on how the complex policy questions posed to research communities can be answered in an interdisciplinary manner and how processes of multidisciplinary dialogue and integration can be organised. Policymakers involved in institutional design at the science-policy interface will then close the session by drawing lessons from the fishbowl interventions.


  • Thomas Bauwens, senior researcher and lecturer at Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development;
  • David Mair, Head of Unit at Joint Research Centre;
  • Tom van Ierland, Head of Strategy and Economic Assessment Unit, DG CLIMA;
  • Clark Miller, professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and Director of the Center for Energy & Society at Arizona State University;
  • Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Deputy Chair of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors;
  • Kristian Nielsen, research associate at the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab in the Department of Psychology;
  • Sebastien Renaud, Deputy Head of Unit for governance and public administration, DG REFORM;
  • Jennie Stephens, Director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy at Northeastern University;
  • Tuula Teeri, President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Chair of Euro-CASE;
  • Jacopo Torriti, Professor of Energy Economics and Policy, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading;
  • Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy Central European University, and member of SAPEA energy working group.

Moderator: Estelle Balian

About the fishbowl format

A fishbowl is a type of moderated discussion which allows for many different voices to be heard, by allowing participants to enter and exit the conversation in an organic way. It works especially well in an online format and it is well suited to issues where there are many different perspectives and no one right answer.

The conversation starts between 3–4 initial participants in the middle of the group, guided by a moderator. Other speakers and audience members listen to the discussion.

There is also an empty chair (obviously, a virtual one in this case). When another speaker or an audience member wants to contribute, they take the empty chair and join the conversation. At this point, one of the initial speakers drops out, leaving their chair empty. They can rejoin later if they want to contribute again.

This process continues, with speakers joining and leaving the conversation as they wish, adding different perspectives.

This event is taking place as part of the 2021 international conference on science advice to governments, organised by INGSA. With the title Build back wiser: Knowledge, policy and publics in dialogue, the event will bring together more than a hundred speakers across four days. Registration is free. Find out more at

Event details


Thomas Bauwens

David Mair

Tom van Ierland

Clark Miller

Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Kristian Nielsen

Sebastien Renaud

Jennie Stephens

Tuula Teeri

Jacopo Torriti

Diana Ürge-Vorsatz