Reducing air pollution in Europe : a study of boundaries between science and policy

W. Tuinstra

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This thesis explores the communication process between science and policy actors in assessment processes in the field of air quality policy inEurope. It focuses on the boundaries between science and policy and on the processes that shape assessments. It uses a concept of effectiveness of scientific assessments in policy processes in terms of credibility, legitimacy and relevance, in combination with the concept of "boundary work". Credibility is the scientific and technical credibility of the assessment to a user of the assessment. Legitimacy is the political acceptability or perceived fairness to a user. Relevance refers to the extent to which an assessment and its results address the particular concerns of the user. Boundary work is the practice of maintaining and withdrawing boundaries between science and policy, shaping and reshaping the science-policy interface. The objectives of this thesis are (1) to contribute to the understanding of the processes at the interface between science and policy in shaping assessment frameworks and assessment processes in the field of air quality policy making in Europe and (2) to contribute to the understanding of the role of "boundary work" between science and policy in enhancing credibility, legitimacy and relevance of assessments. To this end the following research questions are addressed: (1) How do participants in different settings of air quality policy making in Europe divide and co-ordinate work between science and policy?; (2) How does this division of work shape the design of these assessment processes and enhance credibility, legitimacy and relevance of the assessments?; and (3) How do the roles and division of tasks between scientists and policy makers differ between different settings of air quality policy making in Europe and how do these differences influence the way credibility, legitimacy and relevance of the assessments are established? Starting point for the analysis is that it is not easy to draw a sharp line between scientific and policy making activities in an assessment process. Neither can scientists' or policy makers' roles as actors in such processes always be precisely defined. Negotiation takes place about the identity of practices (such as "science" and "policy") and actors (such as "scientists" and "policy makers") and their collaboration. The thesis explores and compares two cases referring to different policy settings in air quality policy making inEurope. One is set in the framework of the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) of the United Nations- Economic Commission forEurope(UN-ECE which includes EU and non-EU countries). The other is set in the context of the work of the European Commission within the EU and discusses the preparatory work for the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, the Clean Air for Europe Programme (CAFE). The analysis of the CLRTAP case shows that knowledge produced within the CLRTAP process and the institutional setting in which this knowledge production takes place cannot be separated from each other: they are co-produced. Furthermore credibility, legitimacy and relevance are to a large extent determined by boundary work in an early stage of the process. At the same time boundary work has to take place continuously in order keep the assessment process credible, legitimate and relevant for new audiences. The analysis of the CAFE case shows that the European Commission took great effort to organise a transparent assessment process based on scientific knowledge and with extensive involvement of stakeholders and Member States. Especially in the beginning of the process boundary work took place in the negotiation on roles and identities of "experts" and "stakeholders" and the scope of certain groups. In the CAFE process conflicting views existed about the right forum for the discussion of certain issues and the participants entitled to give input in this discussion. The thesis concludes that, given the necessarily continuous negotiation of roles, tasks and rules for co-operation between science and policy shows no standard rules can be given for dealing with uncertainties and for scientific standards. Careful use of labels like "correct" or "incorrect" for air pollution measurements or "dangerous" or "safe" for limit values is therefore recommended. The framing of the problem implies what kind of science and what kind of data apply as relevant. If frames are not clearly articulated also misunderstandings and disagreements can rise about what information or which actor is relevant to the problem. Indicators or solutions from one frame may not be recognised as being relevant in another frame. This is one of the reasons why itis difficultto link priorities of policies on air pollution on EU level to priorities on local level. It is important to acknowledge differences in perception or framing of air pollution issues to be able to understand different priorities. This will improve the communication between the different groups in the science-policy interface.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Hordijk, L., Promotor
  • Kroeze, Carolien, Co-promotor
Award date3 Nov 2006
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789085045083
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2006


  • air pollution
  • environmental policy
  • europe


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