22 February 2017

Mistra’s environmental review initiative under scrutiny

A review of the Mistra Council for Evidence-Based Environmental Management (Mistra EviEM) is currently under way. Experts from a range of countries were on the spot at the end of January to find out how this initiative in systematic environmental reviews had met the ambitious aims defined. This review is part of the preparations for activities after 2017 to continue without funding from Mistra.

The experts who gathered for an initial meeting in Stockholm in January have two main tasks. One is to evaluate how Mistra EviEM has succeeded in its original aims, including carrying out systematic reviews of research results and promoting evidence-based thinking in environmental management. The second task facing the expert panel is to identify success factors for future activities, including the requirements for a host.

‘The work that’s now begun is intensive. We’re pleased with the solid, wide-ranging skills the panel members have,’ says Johan Edman, Programmes Director at Mistra and the person administering the review.

Besides possessing extensive expertise in environmental sciences, the panel also includes highly reputed representatives of review and evaluation work in medicine and educational sciences, and also highly qualified practitioners.

Unlike Mistra’s programme initiatives, which often last for eight years, funding of Mistra EviEM is to end after five years. After that, the plan is for the Council to be prepared to be made permanent, with a different host.

‘We’re not asking the reviewers to pick out any particular organisation, although they may do so if they wish. On the other hand, we’d very much like to know what characteristics such an organisation ought to have,’ says Johan Edman.

Seventeen reviews to date

The purpose of Mistra EviEM is to review the scientific grounds — the evidence — for various environmental measures. This is to help decision-makers to reach better decisions on actions for environmental conservation. One way of achieving this is to investigate, in a systematic way, the research carried out in the area concerned, through what are known as ‘systematic overviews of the academic literature’. Since the start, 17 reviews have been carried out. The subjects have ranged from wetlands to phosphorus and nitrogen traps and management of protected forest.

There are several models for Mistra EviEM, the foremost being perhaps the Centre for Evidence-based Conservation at Bangor University in Wales. The model for systematic literature overviews is taken from the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU), whose former Executive Director Måns Rosén belongs to the review group.

‘Without assuming too much, it’s my impression that Mistra EviEM has started extremely well and takes methodology seriously,’ he says.

However, Rosén realises that evaluating an environmental measure is not the same thing as reviewing a drug or a care input.

‘Working on drugs is easier in several ways. The circumstances can be controlled better,’ Rosén says.

Maria Wetterstrand, a public commentator on environmental issues and former spokesperson for Sweden’s Green Party, is another member of the review group. In her view, Mistra EviEM’s work should be disseminated more widely.

‘Take the wetlands report, for instance. It wasn’t even sent to members of the Riksdag. You have to tell people what you’ve done and not assume that they’ll find out for themselves,’ she says.

The review panel is to hold a second, concluding round of meetings at the end of March. At the same time, a report will be completed.

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