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Wildfire science enters the Spanish Congress 

The work of Oficina C brings science to policymaking in Spain 

In 2019, the church of Notre Dame burnt down. Citizens of Hong Kong took the streets to protest for a better democracy. Students protested against inequality in Chile. The Amazon burned (and the hashtag #PrayforAmazonas went viral). Theresa May resigned as prime minister of the UK, and Simone Biles became the gymnast with the most medals in the history of world championships. Anyone slightly following the news probably remembers most of these events. 

However, in this blogpost I will talk about something else that happened in 2019, in this case in Spain, that went unheard of for most. It was the year when the Spanish Congress approved the creation of the Office for Science and Technology (Oficina C), in order to support a scientifically informed debate in the lower House. And you may wonder why is this relevant at all. It is relevant, because we live in the era of the “post-truth”. An era when fake-news appear on a daily basis, and where online disinformation is a matter of public concern. Making scientific findings accessible for policymakers has always been relevant, but now we need to facilitate evidence-based discussions more than ever.  

Although already approved in 2019, Oficina C became reality in 2021, through an agreement between the Congress and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (Fecyt). Ever since, Oficina C has been gathering scientific and technological evidence on different issues relevant for the Congress and organizing events facilitating dialogue between the scientific community and the Members of Congress of all political parties. Their goal? To make of scientific (and technology) evidence a fundamental element of the political dialogue in the lower Spanish house. Regularly, Oficina C releases reports on different topics which summarize the latest scientific evidence and state-of-the-art technology around the matter at hand. Of course, there is usually a vast amount of information available, which is difficult to grasp and summarize on approximately 30 pages. To carry out such a task, they have developed a specific method, “the C method”.  There are two main elements of this method which I found particularly interesting: How are the topics selected?/How is it decided what is relevant for Congress, and how are the reports prepared? 

Aras de los Olmos, Valencia (Spain). Photo credits: Carmen Rodríguez

For choosing the topics, it is Oficina C itself that pre-selects a few topics, upon evaluation of their relevance in the mid- and long-term, as well as their relevance for congress and for the public debate. Afterwards, the Mesa del Congreso (Bureau regulating the internal activities of the Spanish Congress) makes the final selection. For preparing the reports, the technical staff of Oficina C combines a thorough review of scientific literature, newspapers, laws, policies and other grey literature with in-depth interviews. They set up open-ended interviews with experts on the topic, mainly researchers and scientists. And it was at this point, during the preparation of the latest report on forest fires, when they came across my research linking social innovation and socio-ecological resilience in fire-prone territories (you can read more about it in this other blogpost). When they contacted me, they were seeking to gather more insights on the social perspective on the wildfire issue in Spain. This social dimension of the “wildfire issue” is actually getting more attention little by little. However, the insights that social science disciplines have to offer are to this date, not sufficiently included in the public debate, compared to ecological, managerial and technological aspects. In my exchange with the colleagues from Oficina C, we discussed why this is the case. What does it mean to discuss wildfires in a social and – even more important – political terms? We need to understand that the decisions we take in our territories of today, will shape the territories (and therefore, the fires), of tomorrow. Aspects such as what do we do with our rural territories, how do these interact with urban spaces, how the population is distributed in space, where does our food and timber come from, or where do we build our houses, is deeply connected to the changing wildfire regimes, to wildfire risk and potential impacts. 

Here, you can find the report (in Spanish), where you can learn more about the complexities of the Spanish territory, a description of current wildfire regimes, current approaches for prevention, suppression, and restoration, as well as a reflection of how all these things contribute to building socio-ecological resilience in the country.  

Featured image: Alcublas, Valencia (Spain). Photo credits: Enric Díaz

Small image: Aras de los Olmos, Valencia (Spain). Photo credits: Carmen Rodríguez

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