How to make better use of scientific expertise in times of crisis

Bern, 15.11.2022 - Science must be more involved in policy-making, especially during crises. While it is not possible to set up a reference institute for every imaginable crisis, researchers with an interest in policy advice should create a network and know the points of contact in politics and in the federal administration. Regular exchange between the authorities and scientific organisations is needed. The Swiss Science Council SSC also sees room for improvement in the ability of extra-parliamentary commissions to adapt to crises and in the rules for scientific task forces.

Wars, epidemics, global warming, migratory flows, shortages. “What we are observing today is not one, but several crises interacting in complex ways. Therefore, the role of science in policy must be strengthened on various levels,” explains Sabine Süsstrunk, president of the Swiss Science Council SSC. In its latest publication, the Council examines how scientific expertise and advice can most effectively support Switzerland.

An expert report commissioned by the SSC analyses three case studies, including the financial crisis, the Fukushima accident, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the diversity and unpredictability of crises, the authors conclude that no single advisory mechanism exists that is suitable for all types of crises. Instead, different instruments need to be improved or developed.

The SSC’s recommendations to the Federal Council aim to foster a more systematic use of scientific expertise in the prevention, preparedness, and management of crises. A central theme in these recommendations is that the political and scientific communities must know and understand each other better, in order to support each other in their respective roles.

The SSC’s recommendations at a glance:

Make room for science in the political agenda
Science must have the possibility to bring new and lesser-known risks onto the political agenda – on request, but also on its own initiative. To this end, the contact points at all political and administrative levels should be expanded and the scientific community should know about them.

Involve the science policy organisations
Politicians should regularly meet with the presidents of swissuniversities, the ETH Board, the academies, the Swiss National Science Foundation, Innosuisse, and the SSC to discuss threats and challenges. The higher education institutions should be encouraged to include policy advice as a part of their mission towards society. The academies should coordinate and integrate the experts in policy advice into a network.

Link science and crisis management
Scientists should have access to the knowledge and skills required for effective policy advice. This implies joint exercises as well as other forms of networking with crisis management experts in the federal administration.

Put departmental research to better use
Departmental research can play an important role in planning for crisis preparedness and should serve to quickly generate knowledge on threats and risks. In addition, it should be systematically integrated into the policy-making process. Departmental research can also help to build bridges between science and politics.

Ensure extra-parliamentary commissions are crisis-proof
One should identify the extra-parliamentary commissions tasked, among other activities, with crisis preparedness and management, as well as guarantee their appropriate professional composition. They should be able to focus on specific crises by receiving the adequate legal basis and increased support. In the event of a crisis, they should also be able to provide advice on their own initiative.

Define rules for scientific task forces
For complex situations presenting a special need for advice, a scientific task force should support the authorities. These experts should be recruited from an overarching network in cooperation with the science policy organisations and in a transparent procedure. A task force needs an appropriate thematic breadth; its composition should be adapted depending on the evolution of a crisis. The rules of cooperation and communication should be clarified in advance.

Address for enquiries

Lukas Zollinger, Head of the secretariat SSC
Einsteinstrasse 2
CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 58 480 07 23


Swiss Science Council