A4: Mind the Gap: Academic Research Spanning the Environmental Science-Policy Divide

The continued security and economic vitality of the United States relies on a sustainable and resilient supply chain of water, energy, and food. Concerns are immediately triggered when natural and human-induced disturbances cut off access to any of these vital components of the supply chain. Changing climatic conditions with resulting higher temperatures, shifting growing seasons, and more frequent and extreme flooding and drought events pose ever greater challenges to sustainable water, agriculture, aquaculture, transportation, and energy resiliency. Society is increasingly aware of these climate impacts and rightfully expect officials and decision-makers at all levels of government to lead the way in adapting to a different environmental future. Knowledge gains from science in turn lead the way in contributing information to support of governmental management decisions and the policymaking process. Yet, of the 21 environmental issues of the 21st century identified in the United Nations Foresight Report, reconnecting the broken bridges between science and the policy process ranked fourth (UNEP, 2012). Ranked third are new sets of challenges for ensuring food safety and food security including climate change.

Universities, despite the outward appearances or perceptions of being monolithic organizations out of touch with real-world problems, are able to mobilize unique capabilities to address societal needs. The session will highlight how positive bridge-building leadership, mindful of the gaps in academic research organizational structures, effectively encourages innovation, cultivates partnerships, and re-frames thinking to create opportunities to support evidence-informed policy. Academic bridges strengthen the adapt and act practices needed for rapid decision-making and serve as connectors to support policy actors contending with uncertainties during times of environmental crisis. Such bridge spanning is particularly successful when academic researchers are mindful of the gap. Presenters in this session are from the academia and federal sectors. Invited presenters have diverse backgrounds and expertise in emerging societal water challenges in aquaculture, agriculture, flooding, and infrastructure.


  • Patricia Sobecky, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, University of Alabama; Executive Director, Alabama Water Institute
  • LaDon Swann, National Sea Grant Aquaculture Liaison, Director, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
  • Kenneth Olson, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois
  • Lisa Davis, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Alabama
  • Silvana Croope, Resilience Research Engineer, University of Alabama
  • Lois Morton, Professor of Sociology, Iowa State University