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Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center

Science and Policy Courses

Evidence-Based Policymaking, Fall 2024


(2 ECTS, 2 days with case study work in-between, 60 hours of work.)

Lecturers and case study supervisors: Eva Lieberherr (ETH), Thomas Bernauer (ETH), Holger Gerdes (Ecologic Institute, Berlin), Jerylee Wilkes-Allemann (Berne University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL), and Luisa Last (ETH)

The aim of this course is to develop skills and actions to improve the effectiveness of science in informing policymakers and in engaging with the policymaking process. The lectures will introduce the concepts of environmental governance and evidence-based policymaking, as well as the policy cycle as an underlying conceptual normative framework. Participants will reflect on their role as scientists with a special focus on the idea of honest broker. In the case studies, ;Palatino Lparticipants will work with concrete examples of policymaking and learn how scientific results are translated to become policy-relevant. 

All participants will interview policymakers on their experiences with scientific information in policymaking. Additionally, all participants will formulate a policy brief for the real-world problem that they have chosen intended to inform policymakers in a short and concise way on the existing research evidence.

The second course day is dedicated to the presentation and discussion of the case studies.

Specific learning objectives are:

  • Discuss the concepts of evidence-based policy-making and environmental governance
  • Know factors that influence the policy-making process aside from evidence
  • Get to know the policy cycle as a normative conceptual framework
  • Become reflective on the different roles that scientists can take in the policy process
  • Analyze the policymaking process in real-life examples of regional, national or international policies
  • Explore how policy-relevant evidence is produced and incorporated in practices
  • Formulate a policy brief and translate scientific findings for policy

Individual performance and assessment: Attendance and active participation during the two course days (16 hours). In the weeks between the two workshop days you should plan for available time for group work and individual work of min. 30 hours on the group cases. Case study work involves literature research, expert interviews, and group discussions. 10 hours are reserved for self-study of the workbook (see below) and of literature.

Literature: Paschke M., Pfisterer A. (2019). Evidence-based policy making. With contributions by: McNally, K., Herrendörfer, R., Hirschi, C., Last, L. Pauli, D., Studer, B. and J. Schubert.

Communicating Sciences, Fall 2024


(2 ECTS, 2 days with case study work in-between. 60 hours of work)

Lecturer and case study supervisor: Jacopo Pasotti

Scientists in all fields are expected to perform public outreach occasionally on matters ranging from research funding to assist policymakers in taking decisions. In doing this, they face challenges. Challenges range from being clear, convincing, accurate, and, at the same time, engaging. Academic researchers play an essential role in allowing policymakers to develop and properly assess science policy options, speaking to the media, and contributing to the improvement of public’s critical thinking.

In this course, students will learn basics on how to communicate science in an effective way to the media, policymakers and a wider public. They will be introduced to different communication tools and best-practice examples. 

Students will:

  • Identify and communicate aspects of their research to different stakeholder groups
  • Practice writing techniques to effectively reach a non-specialist audience
  • Know and use different communication tools
  • Comprehend science communication as an ongoing dialogue
  • Practice public speaking techniques to react to interviews and a non-specialist

Although the course is geared to practical issues, it is also grounded in the latest theory and practice of science communication.

Individual Performance and Assessment: Attendance and active participation during the two face-to-face course days (16 hours). In the weeks between the two workshop days you should plan for available time for group work and individual work of 40 hours.

Literature: Pfisterer, A., Paschke, M. and J. Pasotti (2019). Communication science through the media.

Building Political Support, Fall 2023


(2 ECTS, 3 days with case study work in-between. 60 hours of work)

Lecturers and case study supervisors: Sarah Bütikofer (University of Zurich and Defacto), Sebastian Koehler (King`s College London), Larissa Mettler (, Tim Frey (CRK), Marcel Falk (Swiss Academy of Sciences), and Luisa Last (ETH)

During the last decades different ways of bridging science and policy have been explored. Policy is understood as a principle or guideline for action in a specific context. In this course, the students shall learn what kind of actions are necessary to implement policies in different sectors, such as the governmental system, the public agencies, the civil society or the private sector. Who are the main actors and when do they need to be involved?

Decision and policymakers in Switzerland and the process of policy endorsement - This lecture gives an overview on main actors in the policy-making process in Switzerland.

Decision and policymakers in the European Union and the process of policy endorsement - This lecture introduces the essential steps in the process of policy endorsement in the European Union and ways to form alliances with policy-makers at European scale. Getting support from policymakers will depend among others, upon convincing them of the benefits that implementing the actions can provide and upon the timing. The aim of the course is to know where it is possible to exert influence on the political process as a scientist, an expert, a lobbyist or an interested Swiss or European resident/citizen. Knowing the decision makers is central to exerting influence on negotiations and decision-making processes.

In the hands-on training participants will get to know the advocacy cycle, the Problems-Causes-Effects Tree, carry out actors mapping and learn about different tools for advocacy approaches to build up an individual advocacy environment for a certain topic.

Additionally, a visit to the Swiss Parliament and an interview with a parliamentarian is scheduled.

Specific learning objectives are:

  • Identify the relevant policy- and decision-making sectors in Switzerland and the European Union
  • Identify the relevant political actors on the national and international level for specific topics
  • Understand when and how to become involved in the policy cycle
  • Learn about advocacy and strategies to advocate your topics at the science-policy interface

Individual Performance and Assessment: Students work in case study groups fulfilling different tasks. Please note: In the weeks between the three workshop days (24 hours) you should plan for available time for group work and individual work of 36 hours.

Literature: Bütitikofer, S. (2019). Building political support. With contributions by: Falk, M., Last, L., Neu, U., Paschke, M., Pavageau, C. and C. Rey.

Stakeholder Engagement, Fall 2023


(2 ECTS, 3 days with preparatory and case study work. 60 hours of work)

Lecturer and case study supervisor: Minu Hemmati, Berlin

During their work life, most life scientists will have to deal with issues relating to the development of their field, some of which may be subject to controversial debates in society and politics. They may be asked to give advice to governmental institutions on policies relating to natural resource governance, conservation, sustainable use of ecosystems, and others. Life scientists may also be invited to participate in stakeholder engagement processes, as experts, as representatives of the scientific community or other organisations or sectors they may work for.

Communicating and collaborating effectively across the boundaries and differences of various stakeholder groups and engaging constructively with representatives from government, business and civil society in multi-stakeholder processes will be key competencies in this context. In this course, students will learn to understand different stakeholders and multi-stakeholder processes, and effectively engage in multi-stakeholder settings. The course will combine presentations of background information, practical exercises, group discussions and individual reflection.

Specific learning objectives are:

  • Gain understanding of stakeholder engagement and multi-stakeholder processes
  • Get an overview as to where multi-stakeholder processes could play a role
  • Identify and analyse stakeholders
  • Understand how to engage with different stakeholders and work effectively in various multi-stakeholder settings
  • Analyse different levels of engagement, including their strengths and weaknesses
  • Learn about criteria and methods for evaluating stakeholder engagement processes

Individual performance and assessment: Attendance and active participation in the face-to-face course days (25 hours). In order to obtain the credit points, participants are required to study the pre-reading before the workshop (5 hours), to hand in an individual and group assignments to be carried out in between and  to prepare a case study in the group to be presented during the second course day (30 hours).

Literature: Hemmati, M. (2020). Stakeholder engagement. With contribution by: Maier, B.

Lecture: Introduction to Political Sciences, Fall 2023

(1 ECTS, 3 days with individual work in-between)

Lecturers and case study supervisor: Sarah Bütikofer (University of Zurich and Defacto)

The course is an introduction to politics in a globalised world, with a focus on how political science tries to understand and explain cross-country and cross-time differences. The course will begin by introducing students to some of the main empirical variations in political behaviour, institutions, and actors, focusing mainly on democratic and partially democratic countries. We mainly discuss theoretical approaches to the study of politics and policies across a range of states, international organizations and issue areas. Students will learn about the influence of political actors on decision-making processes, political negotiations and public opinion. The course involves interactive elements, movie scenes and discussions. The students are also asked to participate in an in-class assignment in order to obtain the ECTS points.

Individual Performance and Assessment: In order to obtain the 1 ECTS point, each participant is required to actively participate in the in-class assignment and discussions during the course days (14 hours). In addition, participants are expected to: Prepare for the second day a written group essay and a short presentation. The essay mainly consists in answering a couple of questions concerning the chosen country. The essay should be no longer than 6000 characters. The preparation work for the essay including literature study before the course is 16 hours.

Analysis and Communication of Risks and Uncertainties, Spring 2024


(2 ECTS, 3 days with preparatory and case study work in between, 60 hours of work)

Lecturers and case study supervisors: Melanie Paschke (PSC, ETH), Cornelius Senf (TUM, Munich), Christoph Beuttler (Climeworks), and Laetitia Ramelet (TA-SWISS)

The reliability of scientific data and models are frequently subject of public and political debate. The aim of this course is to understand the concepts of risk, uncertainty and ignorance in relation to these data and models in order for course participants to be more aware of and work more effectively at the science-policy interface. Additionally, we will explore communication tools and strategies linked to risk and uncertainty, including different public engagement strategies.

During workshop day 1, lecturer will introduce the concepts of risk, uncertainty and ignorance. Participants will get to know sources of uncertainty in scientific data and models, how to deal with uncertainty in quantitative models, and limits of uncertainty quantification. In an accompanying exercise, the participants will get hands-on experiences with applying quantitative uncertainty models to practical examples, including the representation and communication of uncertainty. 

Workshop day 2 is dedicated to risk perception and building behavioural changes and trust through public engagement. After an introduction into the relevant tools and theories, students will be offered insights from past projects of the Risk-Dialogue foundation St. Gallen. In the afternoon, students will have the opportunity to test their own strategies for risk communication via case study work considering real world examples of risk communication, public engagement, and related best practices.

During the morning session of workshop day 3, the lecturer will focus on risk and uncertainty communication. When communicating to policymakers and lay persons good practices can be followed to avoid misunderstanding or misconception by the target auditory both in written and in oral presentations and to make research results and messages be understanding.

The afternoon session intents to provide insight into a) argument-based tools for understanding why uncertainty arises scientific assessments and how it can be assessed. Tools will be introduced to characterize uncertainties based on specific modelling assumptions.

b) the actual work of scientists and agencies considering risks and uncertainties at national and international scale. Here, a guest speaker will present the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment (TA-SWISS) and its role as well as approaches and public communication in assessing risk and chances of technologies while contributing to parliamentary processes.

Specific learning objectives are:

  • Understand concepts of risk, uncertainty and ignorance
  • Apply quantitative and qualitative models to measure uncertainties
  • Understand the role of risk-based evidence as a decision framework for policy choices.
  • Understand the concept of risk perception and how to deal with it in public engagement
  • Develop effective strategies for communicating risk and uncertainty

Individual performance and assessment:Attendance and active participation in the course (24 hours). In order to obtain the credit points, participants are required study pre-reading / reading essentials before the workshop, to hand in an individual and group assignments to be carried out at home and a group/case work to be presented during the second course day (36 hours).

Literature: Beuttler, C., Paschke, M. (2020). Risk and uncertainty communication. In: Paschke, M., Dahinden, M. (eds.): Engaging in the Science-Policy Dialogue, Workbook 4. Zurich: Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center.

Understanding Policy Evaluation, Spring 2024

(2 ECTS, 2 days with case study work of 40 hours in-between)

Lecturer and case study supervisor: Tobias Arnold (INTERFACE, Lucerne)

The course provides a general overview of different policy evaluation approaches, as well as opportunities for concrete applications and reflections on impact models. It aims at discussing how, when, by whom and for what purpose policy is evaluated as well as under what conditions the effectiveness and efficiency of a policy can be measured. Based on the theoretical and methodological introduction on policy evaluation conducted by social scientists, participants reflect on how natural science can contribute to policy evaluation and on how research can become socially relevant. Between the first and the second workshop day, participants are solving a case study (in groups or individually). The main objective of the case study is to practice the application of logic models.

Specific learning objectives are:

  • Know different types of policy evaluation and their methods
  • Understand logic models and theory of change in the context of policy evaluation
  • Gain insights on how policy evaluation helps to improve policy implications
  • Apply policy evaluation logics in a case study

Individual performance and assessment: Attendance and active participation in the course (16 hours). In order to obtain the credit points, participants are required study pre-reading / reading essentials before the workshop, to hand in an individual and group assignments to be carried out at home and a group/case work to be presented during the second course day (44 hours).

Literature: Paschke, M. and S. Studer (2019). Generating impact chains. With a contribution by: K. McNally.

Specialized Courses

Strategic Foresight and Scenario Building

(1 ECTS, 4 days, Fall 2021)

Lecturers: Chris Luebkeman (ETH), Johannes Heck (ETH)

The most innovative scientists, government officials and business executives regularly reflect on the challenges and changes lying ahead 5, 10 or 20 years from now. Some of today’s most progressive governments and corporations seek to understand the different future contexts for which they might need to equip themselves in the long-term future. In the process of such reflection and strategic planning, many turn to the scenario building methods as an effective tool for a structured thinking/analysis of one’s future contexts. 

This seminar is a practice-oriented learning experience that dives into the scenario development/building methods and their concrete applications. The seminar will combine lectures and theme-specific discussions with a workshop allowing participants to develop their own scenarios.

System thinking

(1 ECTS, 4 days)

Lecturers: tba

Course description: tba

Weiterführende Informationen

Science and Policy Image

Science & Policy Overview

This flyer contains information about the registration for the PhD Program in Science & Policy (6 pages).