Post-Normal Science

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Introduction and definition

Post-Normal Science (PNS) is a problem-solving framework developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz according to which a new conception of the management of complex science-related issues is proposed. The PNS framework was introduced at the inaugural conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics in 1990.

In "normal" science, uncertainty, value loadings and plural legitimate perspectives tend to be neglected, whereas according to the "post-normal" view, these are integral elements to science. Difficult policy decisions are often needed in cases where the only existing inputs are subjective value-judgments, as opposed to the traditional "hard" and objective facts presented by traditional sciences. Hence, in the cases where facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, the stakes are high and decisions are urgent, a PNS strategy is advocated. Complementarily, when uncertainties and stakes are lower, an expert-based approach and traditional problem-solving strategies, such as applied science or professional consultancy, may be effective (Figure 1).

PNS recognizes that the current challenges faced by science-related policy are not characterized by regular, simple and certain phenomena. For example, in relation to many environmental, health or sustainability issues, the answers provided by "normal" science are necessary but not sufficient. The CEECEC case study by A Sud on the waste conflict in Campania, Italy for example, is presented as a as a Post Normal Science problem. Within this context, PNS provides a coherent framework for an extended participation in decision-making, whereby the quality assurance of policies relies on open dialogues between all those affected (i.e. what Funtowicz and Ravetz call "extended peer communities").

Elements and principles of Post-Normal Science

The main elements and principles of PNS include (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1990; Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994):

1. The scientific management of uncertainty and of quality

In the issue-driven research of PNS, the characteristic uncertainties are large, complex and less well understood than in matured quantitative sciences. Hence, the management of uncertainties should rely on explicit guidelines and credible set of procedures such as those provided in the NUSAP notational system. The NUSAP categories stand for "Numeral", "Unit", "Spread", "Assessment" and "Pedigree", enabling the different sorts of uncertainty in quantitative information to be expressed in a standardized way and presented transparently to all the actors involved in a policy process.

The principle of quality, understood as a contextual property of scientific information, is central to the management of uncertainty in PNS. It allows tackling the irreducible uncertainty and ethical complexity that are central to the resolution of complex issues. Consequently, PNS calls for the development of new norms of evidence and discourse, where knowledge is extended to peer communities for quality assurance

Figure 1: Post-Normal Science diagram (Source: Funtowicz and Ravetz 2008)

"purposes. Thus, one of the basic principles of PNS is the inclusion of laypersons, such as citizens and other non-experts in the assessment of quality. PNS recognizes that all those with a desire and commitment to participate in the resolution of the relevant issues are expected to enrich the nature of policy debates involving science.

2. The multiplicity of perspectives and commitments

As policy processes become dialogue, knowledge is "democratized, encompassing the diversity of legitimate perspectives and commitments. Again, the guiding principle in the dialogue on a PNS issue is quality rather than "truth". Most complex issues entail a plurality of actors and multiple dimensions of analysis that are difficult to condense in a single scale of measurement. It is accepted that there is no sharp distinction between "expert" and "lay" constituencies. As a consequence, both types are needed to enrich the comprehension of the whole. Extending decision processes requires the creation of conditions to identify, involve and engage the relevant community, thus entering the realm of participatory processes. The contribution of social actors is understood not merely as a matter of broadening participatory democracy, but as a legitimate input to the co-production of knowledge. These extended peer communities are increasingly being created, with different forms and power arrangements, such as "citizens‘ juries", "focus groups" or "consensus conferences";

3.The intellectual and social structures that reflect problem-solving activities

Unlike previous models of science, PNS does not attempt to define unifying conceptual foundations or to create closed boundaries in a field of research. Hence, the unity in PNS is primarily derived from an ethical commitment to the resolution of an issue rather than from a shared knowledge base. This commitment will take social actors through the appropriate problem-solving activities and dialogues. In this fluid context, quality assurance processes maintain the integrity of the intellectual structures that inform research, supported by the appropriate institutional structures or arrangements.

An extended tutorial on PNS ("Environmental Policy under Conditions of Complexity"), case study reports and additional supporting materials are available from


  • Funtowicz, S., Ravetz, J. 1990. Uncertainty and Quality in Science for Policy. Kluwer Academic Publishers, the Netherlands.
  • Funtowicz, S., Ravetz, J. 1993. Science for the post-normal age, Futures 25 (7), 739–755.
  • Funtowicz, S., Ravetz, J. 1994. The Worth of a Songbird: Ecological Economics as a Post-normal Science, Ecological Economics, 10(3):197-207.
  • Funtowicz, S., Ravetz, J. (Lead Authors); International Society for Ecological Economics (Content Partner); Robert Costanza (Topic Editor). 2008. "Post-Normal Science." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth September 18, 2006; Last revised December 22, 2008; Retrieved January 8, 2010]. <>

External links

Science post-normale