An exercise in policy briefs
As part of the CREATE Climate-Smart Soils program students participate in an intensive week-long core course where they learn the ins and outs of climate-smart soils. For our Year 1 students, the core course took place at the beginning of September as most of them began their graduate degrees.
During the course, students dove headfirst into scientific, social, and economic aspects of all things climate-smart and soil through lectures from a variety of our collaborators and field trips to local (ish) farms. The goal of the course week is to arm students with in-depth knowledge of climate-smart soil practices and management to carry forward through their own graduate research projects and into their future careers.
After the course and over their fall semester, this year’s 12 students completed a series of assignments that allowed them to apply what they learned during the week of lectures and field trips to real-world issues. For one of the assignments, students were asked to work (remotely) in groups to produce a policy brief based on Paustian et al. (2016; see our previous post for more background on climate-smart soils and their importance), making the case for climate-smart soil practices to be included as part of the Canadian government’s actions to fight climate change (including recommendations as to how to do this).
Check out the images below too see what the students came up with:
“Climate Smart Soils: Combatting Climate Change through Agricultural Practices” by L. Van Koppen (University of Guelph), H. Lieberman (McGill University), and T. Kabir (University of Guelph)
“Climate Smart Soils: A Win-Win for Climate Change Mitigation and Soil Productivity” by M. Arseneau (University of Guelph), S. Farzadfar (University of Saskatchewan), and J. Nicksy (University of Manitoba)
“Climate-Smart Soil (CSS) Practices, A Path to Fighting Climate Change” by J. Evans (University of Guelph), R. Johnson (University of Guelph), K. Oleson (University of Manitoba)
“Soil Centric Canadian Climate Solutions” by G. Bell (University of Guelph), L. Laurence (Dalhousie University), and T. Phan (University of Saskatchewan)
The policy brief was a great exercise because it allowed students to practice many different skills that are important going forward as graduate students. To produce an effective policy brief, students needed to collaborate remotely and factor in different time zones, produce a deliverable other than the research papers they are likely most used to, and synthesize and paraphrase information in a way that can be understood by a non-academic audience. The policy brief is directed toward policymakers who are in a position to make change happen but are not necessarily familiar with the detailed science and research that informs their work. So, the policy briefs needed to include solid background information as well as clear support for the importance of their recommendations.
Overall, each group produced a policy brief effective in both content and appearance. It was interesting to see how the students used the information from Paustian et al. (2016) and applied what they learned during the core course. For the most part, their recommendations were similar:
- Incentives for farmers to adopt climate-smart soil practices,
- Carbon and nitrogen taxes and/or regulations,
- Further research in all aspects of climate-smart soils, and
- Education and outreach to teach farmers about the importance of natural climate solutions
Perhaps the most interesting part of this assignment (as an observer, anyways) is that each group started with the same resources yet produced something unique, from content to layout. Exposure to different perspectives and thought processes is one of the many great things about group work in an interdisciplinary program like CREATE-CSS, and we look forward to seeing what our students come up with next.