Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development
Organized by William Clark, Pamela Matson and Nancy Dickson
April 3-4, 2008
The world has substantial experience with systems of research, observations, innovation, assessment and decision support (or “knowledge systems”) that have been designed to foster goals of economic prosperity, human development, or environmental conservation. Examples range from the international agricultural research system through the world’s campaigns against infectious diseases to efforts to reduce transboundary air pollution. But many international research and innovation efforts to support sustainable development have been initiated and developed in an ad hoc manner, learning little from relevant scholarship, analogous efforts in other fields, or reflection on their own experiences. Reciprocally, scholarship on knowledge systems has not benefited from the reflective experience of program mangers in national and international R&D efforts relevant to sustainable development. More generally, historical experience is only beginning to be critically examined to determine what reliable lessons it can offer contemporary efforts to build more effective knowledge systems for sustainability. As a result, we know much less than we could about which kinds of knowledge systems work (and which do not) under what conditions. Myths accumulate; blunders are repeated. There is both a great need and a great deal of enthusiasm for systematically and critically comparing experience with knowledge systems across a wide range of sectors and regions in order to understand how such systems can be most effectively reformed and designed. Numerous research efforts around the world, including a sustained push by the National Academies’ Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability, are beginning to generate a foundation for such understanding, and thus to promote practical interventions for better linking knowledge with action in pursuit of sustainability.
The Colloquium is organized around five major challenges to linking knowledge with action in support of sustainability that have been identified in recent work at the Academies. Sessions focused on each of these challenges will summarize and discuss relevant research and practical experience from around the world. An Overview session will provide perspective and context, while a closing Synthesis session will provide speakers and participants in the Colloquium with an opportunity to reflect on its implications for research and practice.
- Use-inspired Research: Informing R&D Priorities through Dialogues between Decision-makers and Scientists
- Mobilizing the Knowledge We Have: Integrating Knowledge from Tradition, Practice, and Research
- Bridging the “Valleys of Death”: Building End-to-End Systems Linking Research, Development, and Deployment
- Learning from Experience: Designing Adaptive Systems that Link Knowledge with Action for Sustainability
- Who’s in Charge? Managing Power and Interests in the Deployment of Science and Technology for Sustainable Development
Introduction and Overview
William Clark, Harvard University
Session 1: Use-inspired Research: Informing R&D Priorities through Dialogues between Decision-makers and Scientists
The Challenge of Promoting Use-Inspired Fundamental Research: Connecting Science, Society, and Managers
Pamela Matson, Stanford University
The academic research community is increasingly interested in the development of knowledge that is useful, usable, and used in decision making for sustainable development. Use-inspired research that can provide practical options for decision making is unlikely to emerge without the joint efforts of decision-makers and other stakeholders together with researchers. One of the key challenges associated with this objective, however, is the development of pathways for interactions and the two-way flows of information with key decision makers. Using a case study from the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico, we illustrate the challenges associated with identifying and working with appropriate decision makers in a complex knowledge system, and the consequences of those interactions for both the research endeavor and decision-making for sustainable agriculture.
Informing Priorities for Water Sustainability Research through Dialogues between Decision Makers and Scientists
Kathy Jacobs, Arizona Water Institute
Managing water for sustainable use and economic development is both a technical and a governance challenge in which knowledge production and sharing plays a central role. In a series of efforts to build research agendas that are responsive to the needs of water managers, multiple techniques for connecting science and decision-making have been used. This presentation includes an assessment of engagement processes used to inform water sustainability research priorities within the Arizona Water Institute, a newly-formed boundary organization focused specifically on connecting researchers in Arizona to water managers and decision-makers within the state. We also discuss the efforts of SAHRA, the NSF Center for Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas, to produce stakeholder-relevant science to support decision-making in river basins in the Southwest, and the outcomes of the Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development (KSSD) project’s effort to assess the use of scientific information for decision-making. The KSSD project evaluated four river basins that have similar challenges related to use of climate information, ecological sustainability, economic development, infrastructure decisions and governance. Our approach included separate field investigations in each area, followed by a workshop to compare the knowledge systems and perspectives of a small group of practitioners, researchers and stakeholders from each basin. In all cases there is an expectation that increased stakeholder engagement in planning and implementation activities, greater attention to resolving uncertainties, and focusing on adaptive management will lead to more sustainable use. These changes require that the research process and results be structured to serve a variety of audiences and be designed to support adaptive management on multiple time and space scales.
Making Global Scientific Assessments more Useful for Policy
Edward Parson, University of Michigan
Scientific assessments of global-change issues are diverse in their character, methods, and intended objectives. The contexts in which assessments are conducted including both the state of relevant scientific knowledge and the state of relevant policy agendas and political settings are also diverse. Assessments can contribute to policy-making in several distinct ways. For example, they may raise the perceived salience or seriousness of an issue and so promote its initial appearance on policy agendas; they may state authoritative resolutions of specific policy-relevant scientific questions; they may project the consequences of particular scenarios of future human activities, or of particular actions, for particular valued characteristics of the global environment; or they may promote effective responses by helping actors resolve shared technical problems. The types of contributions that are possible for an assessment to make and are useful to decision-makers depend on its knowledge and policy context. Whether an assessment succeeds at making particular useful contributions that its context makes possible, depends on specifics of the questions the assessment addresses, and the participants, methods, and processes it uses to address them. Achieving different types of contributions, for different types of decision-makers in different contexts, requires different ways of doing assessments. Accumulating experience with assessments now allows preliminary identification of design principles to advise assessment clients, organizers, and leaders in how to increase the likelihood of achieving particular types of desired contributions.
Session 2: Mobilizing the Knowledge We Have: Integrating Knowledge from Tradition, Practice, and Research
The Challenge of Multiple Epistemologies
Gilberto C. Gallopín, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile
Successful efforts to address challenges of sustainable development have drawn on knowledge from a variety of sources ranging from the laboratory to remote sensing to practical experience and traditional custom. This paper argues that the incorporation, articulation, hybridization, combination, or integration of forms of knowledge with, or in addition to, scientific knowledge in better characterizations of the problem/issue and thus in more effective solutions. Thus, knowledge systems and research institutions that embrace multiple knowledges are more effective for fostering a sustainable development transition than those that do not. However, the articulation of different forms of knowledge poses important methodological, epistemological and institutional challenges to both the practice and the epistemology of science. The difficulties increase along the epistemological gradation going from facts, to theories, to worldviews. When to do it, how to do it, which criteria of truth or quality can be used, how to deal with irreducible conflict between different relevant knowledges, are some of the challenges. They point to useful and interesting priority areas for Sustainability Science. Challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned from theory and case-studies are identified and discussed.
The Role of Local Knowledge in Sustainable Development
Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba
Problems of sustainability often involve uncertainty and risk, very different from the controlled world of disciplinary science. Conventional science finds itself ill-suited to deal with what some have called “wicked problems”, such as climate change, those with no definitive formulation and no obvious end-point problems that cannot be separated from issues of values and equity. With such problems, the notion of an objective, disinterested expert no longer makes sense. Hence a new kind of approach must be created through a process by which researchers and stakeholders together deliberate to define the important questions, research approaches and the resulting evidence. Such an approach requires place-based models and sensitivity to multiple epistemologies. Here I report on the results of climate change studies involving local and indigenous people of the Canadian North. This is local knowledge, not in the sense of existing cognitive knowledge, but rather about knowledge as process, weather-related knowledge, consisting of monitoring critical signs and signals in the environment. Climate change is an excellent venue to explore knowledge-as-process because there is no pre-existing (“traditional”) knowledge of it. Indigenous experts do not know what to expect regarding the outcome of change; what they do know is how and what to look for. In our experience, community-based, participatory research resulted in the co-production of knowledge and helped the communities to make sense of change. It was fundamentally different from expert-knows-best science; it was not model-driven and universalistic, but rather culture-specific, historically informed, scaled, and geographically rooted.
Berkes,F. (2008). Sacred Ecology. Second Edition. Routledge, New York.
Armitage, D., F. Berkes and N. Doubleday, editors (2007). Adaptive Co-Management: Collaboration, Learning, and Multi-Level Governance. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.
Linking Local Knowledge with Global Action: A Knowledge System Perspective on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
Nicole Szlezak, Harvard University
New global public health institutions are increasingly emphasizing transparency in decision-making, developing-country ownership of projects and programs, and merit- and performance-based funding. Such principles imply an institutional response to the challenge of bridging the "know-do gap", by basing decisions explicitly on results, evidence and best practice. Using a knowledge systems framework, we examine how the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has affected the ways in which knowledge is used in efforts to combat these three diseases. We outline the formal knowledge system embedded in current rules and practices associated with the Global Fund's application process, and give three examples that illustrate the complexity of the knowledge system in action: human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) policy in China; successful applications from Haiti; and responses to changing research on malaria. These examples show that the Global Fund has created strong incentives for knowledge to flow to local implementers, but with little encouragement and few structures for the potentially valuable lessons from implementation to flow back to global best practice or research-based knowledge. The Global Fund could play an influential role in fostering much-needed learning from implementation. We suggest that three initial steps are required to start this process: acknowledging shared responsibility for learning across the knowledge system; analyzing the Global Fund's existing data (and refining data collection over time); and supporting recipients and technical partners to invest resources in linking implementation with best practice and research.
Session 3: Bridging the “Valleys of Death”: Building End-to-End Systems Linking Research, Development, and Deployment
The Challenge of Systems Integration
William Clark, Harvard University
This session turns from the challenges of mobilizing knowledge to those of integrating it to produce useful solutions. Dialogues between decision makers and scientists to set research agendas, and mobilization of knowledge derived from practice and tradition as well as from research, are necessary but not sufficient elements of effective knowledge systems. Needed as well are effective mechanisms for integrating the individual pieces of knowledge networks basic research and observations, pilot projects, learning-by doing in large scale field deployments, and redesign of priorities for further knowledge mobilization. Drawing on work from the NAS Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability, this talk will outline principle causes of fragmentation in knowledge systems seeking to support sustainability, highlight promising directions for mitigating such fragmentation, and discuss the special role that public private partnerships and “boundary work” more generally can play in bridging the “Valleys of Death” that so often separate research, development, and deployment.
Enhancing the Effectiveness of Sustainability Partnerships in Agricultural Development
Emmy Simmons, National Academies’ Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability
The search for specific pathways toward sustainability in both global and local contexts is well underway. Indeed, some of the more useful pathways to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving or increasing the sustainable use of natural forests, achieving greater efficiency in use of water for agriculture -- are already being charted, possible “valleys of death” and all. Increasingly, it is apparent that the model of the Intrepid Explorer, walking boldly and alone, is not likely to be successful in identifying critical paths forward and persuading significant numbers of people to follow them in search of solutions. Rather, we are seeing how partnerships that bring together various elements of society governments, academic institutions, businesses, and civil society organizations may be a more viable model for innovation. Partners with diverse skills, resources, and perspectives can better cover the process of innovation from “end to end” and catalyze the sustained, interactive process needed to link knowledge generation with action. To better understand the ways in which partnerships do or do not contribute to more sustainable development and to suggest how they might better promote sustainability in the future, the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability at the National Academies of Science has developed a project to explore the track record of multi-stakeholder partnerships in harnessing science and technology for sustainability. Earlier work of the Roundtable highlighted the importance of sustained, collaborative user-driven dialogue for bridging the gap between researchers and decision-makers. Co-production of information is a critical feature of these efforts. We use this feature to define partnerships here. This presentation will describe the “Partnerships for Sustainable Development” project, its approach and intended outcomes. Input and feedback from participants in this session will help to shape the project and its utility.
Making Short-Term Climate Forecasts Useful
James Buizer, Arizona State University
Climate variability poses significant challenges for decision-making for sustainability but the ability to translate successes in climate forecasts into social impacts is limited. To affect positive social outcomes, knowledge producers must coordinate closely with decision makers who can utilize understanding. In the context of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecasts, we discuss the evolution of “boundary organizations” those institutions that link the producers of knowledge with decision makers and facilitate bidirectional flows of information as a means of providing for this coordination. We view these boundary organizations as a part of an over-arching “knowledge system” which fosters the creation of knowledge, the creation of “boundary objects” which communicate knowledge in a form accessible to decision makers, the distribution of these, and their ultimate application. Through case studies, we exhibit the somewhat opportunistic development of several boundary organizations and conclude that deliberate approaches to establishing boundary organizations may provide for a more efficient knowledge system. We end with rules of thumb and design principles for the effective integration of social, political, and economic considerations in a complete knowledge system.
Closing the Science/Practice Gap: Vulnerability and Resilience in Global Environmental Change
Roger Kasperson, Clark University
The gap between science and practice has been widely noted, with much intuition about how this gap may be narrowed or closed. While intuition abounds, and has value in its own right, careful empirical studies remain few and scattered. This paper addresses the domain of vulnerability and resilience to global environmental change, inquiring as to the state of existing knowledge as to why this gap exists and how it might be narrowed or closed. Metaphors are important in this discussion. The common language alludes to "bridges," ''streets," or "divides," all of which suggest a direct link between science and policy/practice. Most serious studies suggest that while "bridges" may occasionally exist, they are an exception. Rather, the architecture of linkages is much more commonaly one of networks, of varying diffusion and dynamism, and intermediate actors of interpreters and policy brokers. So a beginning point in analysis, or envisioned action, is to characterize the nature of the linkage system, whether bridges of what we term here as "spider-webs." Past studies and assessment of experience suggest a number of central barriers or impediments to tighter and more effective linkage. First, there are often goal mismatches--scientists and practitioners often seek quite different ends and outcomes. Second, knowledge mismatches also exist, where the relevant information and framing of problems vary substantially between scientists and practitioners. Third, a social amplification of risk confronts decision makers with quite a different view or context than that addressed by the scientist. Fourth, decision makers often work with incremental rates of change while scientists are more likely to proceed from first principles of how problem should be solved. Fifth, decision makers and other practitioners must address the whole realm of implementation and the minefields which may exist in that domain. Finally, practitioners inevitably must confront larger questions as to how more resilience communities may be built, for this but other unforeseen challenges. This paper explores these various issues at some length, drawing upon experience from the U.S. and abroad but past studies as well. Pathways to narrowings existing gaps between science and practice are identified and explored.
8th Annual Sackler Lecture - NAS Auditorium
Opportunities and Limits in the Creation of Useful Knowledge for Sustainable Development
Michael Crow, Arizona State University
At long last, we have intellectually come full circle to what our pre-organized science and pre-university ancestors knew all along our collective relationship with our natural environment requires that we think at scale and across time. A thousand years of university evolution and four hundred years of hard work and scientific focus on the ever smaller and more fundamental secrets of nature have quite nearly eliminated our ability to think at multiple scales or on multiple dimensions. It also has virtually crippled our ability to engage between and among the subjects necessary to find our way to a sustainable coexistence with the natural environment. In this exact same timeframe, through a remarkable manipulation of limited knowledge, significant brute force, and an overwhelming amount of hubris, we have shaped a world that, in all likelihood, cannot currently sustain for humanity long-term enhancements in wealth generation and more generally, quality of life.
Our hubris is driven largely by over reliance on what we know versus what we do not know, particularly in the area of sustainability. In addition, key limits to what we can know center on the cognitive, social, philosophical and behavioral constraints that limit our ability to conceptualize the critical questions. Each of these limits plays a critical role in our seeming inability to organize our learning and discovery enterprises in ways that have the real ability to produce successful sustainable futures.
The simultaneous realization of our sustainability needs and threats, our knowledge enterprise design flaws, and our limits in question formulation, places us at a critical juncture in our evolutionary history as a species. Will we be able to adapt as a collective culture or will we, as earlier proto humans or smaller cultures of our present species, be less successful than we need to be for the survival of the 9 to 10 billion person populated earth that we are about to inherit.
Central to the outcome of these questions is the design and knowledge creation behavior of research universities. These institutions are powerful, slow-to-adapt organizations with orthodox-like behavioral norms. Universities, because of their ability to create new knowledge across numerous dimensions and their role in creating the general state of knowledge that serves as the basis for most major decisions regarding our scientific and technological understanding of nature, possess a unique responsibility to advance their design in as creative, innovative, and thoughtful a way possible. The logic and rationale for the redesign of these structures would be discussed at every level and specific normative designs would be presented and reviewed as the central theme of this discourse.
Session 4: Learning from Experience: Designing Adaptive Systems that Link Knowledge with Action for Sustainability
An Advocacy Coalition Approach to Understanding Expert-Based Information and Learning
Paul Sabatier, University of California at Davis and Christopher Weible, Georgia Institute of Technology
What is the role of expert-based information in learning and policy adaptation across different types of policy subsystems? This paper responds to this question by first identifying three functional uses of expert-based information: instrumental, learning, and political. The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) is then applied to understand these functional uses in unitary, adversarial, and collaborative policy subsystems. The paper concludes with a set of propositions that help explain (i) how different functional uses of expert-based information are used in each type of policy subsystem; (ii) how learning occurs within and between coalitions, sometimes leading to adaptive policy subsystems; and (iii) how the three policy subsystem types can remain stable over time.
Adaptive Management Experience in Fisheries: Lessons for Sustainability
Ray Hilborn, University of Washington
The governance approaches for fisheries management vary widely around the world and range from totally centralized “top down” control in countries such as New Zealand, to decentralized control by fishing communities in small scale fisheries in Chile, Japan and many Pacific Island countries. Within the governance system, the key elements of fisheries management are regulation of harvests, allocation of fishing access, data collection and research, and monitoring compliance and surveillance (MCS). Regulation of harvest in top down control fisheries are often classic examples of “passive” adaptive management, in which there is a regular cycle of monitoring, evaluation, and revision of regulations. In all governance systems there appears to be much less formal adaptive management in the approaches to allocation, data collection and MCS. There have been some formal active adaptive management experiments in which systems are deliberately managed for their value to reduce uncertainties. There is an enormous amount of experience and learning about all elements of fisheries management in decentralized systems, but it is rarely imbedded in a formal adaptive management structure. Overall there has been a great deal learned about how to manage fisheries for biological and social sustainability, and many countries are learning rapidly and achieving these goals. However transferring of these lessons across societies has been difficult and we still lack methods to achieve sustainability, particularly in mixed artisanal commercial fisheries in countries lacking strong central governments, and in international fisheries.
Learning from Experience in Assessing Trade-offs between Poverty Alleviation and Wildlife Conservation
Robin Reid, Colorado State University International and Livestock Research Institute
Direct and strong linkages between local community needs and research are particularly rare where communities are remote and their research needs require strong shifts in traditional scientific approaches. Here, we describe the evolution of our 20-year effort to bring the best of research to serve the needs of local communities and policy makers in pastoral savannas of East Africa. The senior author started with the traditional ‘scientific imperialism’ approach, which has now evolved into several teams paying close attention to building hybrids of local and scientific knowledge, addressing asymmetries of power, and creating the complex web of linkages, through boundary individuals and organizations, that can make science useful to and used by a wide range of stakeholders. Critical to that evolution was early adoption of problem-, rather than discipline-, focused research priorities; long-term engagement and active building of trust on the parts of all participants; a strong desire by the researchers to break down traditional, information-extractive models to create new and evolving research-for-action models. Also important was access to resources to build ‘safe spaces’ for the community-researcher-policy maker team to innovate and continual attention to the power of scientists and scientific information. This presentation will also cover the role of political violence in testing the resilience of these linkages, and a prospective view of the next generation of models that we need to test in our continual search to create knowledge systems, with stakeholders, that are highly credible, relevant to their needs and legitimate.
Session 5: Who’s in Charge? Managing Power and Interests in the Deployment of Science and Technology for Sustainable Development
The Challenge of Governing Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development
Louis Lebel, Chiang Mai University, Thailand
The activities of learning, acting and sharing knowledge are central to our societies’ collective ability to identify sustainable development pathways. Knowledge systems, while being embedded in governance, are also subject to governance. The implicit or explicit rules and processes that govern how decisions are made, who can make them, and on what basis, underpin how well or poorly a knowledge system performs. In this presentation we review a diverse sample of efforts to bring research-based knowledge to bear on problems in sustainable development, focusing on evidence about the consequences of strategies of engagement for how power is shared and exercised. We address three questions: (1) Who defines the problems important for research and action? (2)When is research-based knowledge acted upon? And, (3) How are the impacts of research assessed? Concisely these can be thought of as the challenges of agenda, authority and accountability. We find that the performance of knowledge systems for sustainable development is influenced by how they are governed. Institutional responses to problems of bias, inaction, polemics, scientism, irrelevance and gaps in knowledge systems are varied and inconsistent in their impacts. There isn’t a “free-size” institution for better governance of knowledge systems; but there are useful analyses that can be made of power, engagement, knowledge and action. Across all three governance challenges agenda, authority and accountability issues emerged around the membership, form and content of knowledge-action arenas. Knowledge systems in which research, its users, and broader society are engaged in arenas that deliberate priorities for investment, the usefulness of findings, and evaluating performance, appear to produce better and more salient research-based knowledge for the pursuit of sustainable development than those which do not.
van Kerkhoff L, Lebel L (2006) Linking knowledge and action for sustainable development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 31:445-477.
Lebel L, Contreras A, Pasong S, Garden P (2004) Nobody knows best: alternative perspectives on forest management and governance in Southeast Asia: Politics, Law and Economics. International Environment Agreements 4:111-127.
Lebel L, Garden P (2008) Deliberation, negotiation and scale in the governance of water resources in the Mekong region. Pages 205-225 in C. Pahl-Wostl, P. Kabat, and J. Möltgen, editors. Adaptive and integrated water management: coping with complexity and uncertainty. Springer, Berlin.
Increasing Capacity for Stewardship of Oceans and Coasts: A Priority for the 21st Century
Mary (Missy) Feeley, ExxonMobil Exploration Company
The rapid decline of ocean and coastal ecosystems has captured the attention of governments, national and international organizations, private foundations, and local communities. There is growing recognition that increasing the stewardship of local and global seas will require a greater capacity the people, the institutions, and technology and tools to assess, manage, and govern coastal and ocean resources. Programs to grow this capacity are needed for training scientists, managers, and policymakers and for strengthening institutions that supply financial support, technology, and tools. Most capacity building activities have been initiatives to address particular issues or they target a particular region facing threats to their marine resources. There is little coordination among the efforts with similar goals or overlapping geographic coverage resulting in programs that are less effective due to their isolation in time and space and not funded or sustained past the typically short project lifetime. A recently completed National Research Council report assesses past and current capacity-building efforts to identify barriers to effective management of coastal and marine resources. The report recommends ways that governments and organizations can help strengthen marine and coastal protection and management capacity, including the development of leadership and political will. Improving ocean stewardship and ending the fragmentation of current capacity-building programs will require a new, broadly adopted framework that focuses on growing capacity as a goal unto itself, emphasizing cooperation, sustainability, knowledge transfer within and among communities, education and training opportunities, and establishment of effective governance structures.
Managing S&T for Sustainable Development through Multi-scale Collaboration
Thomas Wilbanks, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Abundant practical experience and research evidence have shown that the process of deploying science and technology (S&T) for sustainable development connects with decision-making roles at a variety of geographic and institutional scales, from very large (i.e., global/national) to local. For instance, bottom-up local scales offer potentials for participation, flexibility, and innovativeness, while top-down larger scales offer potentials for resource mobilization and cost-sharing. The problem is that in many cases the driving forces, agendas, and reward structures of different scales are in conflict; and as a result the potentials for S&T to contribute to sustainable development are often seriously undermined. In many cases, in fact, cross-scale collaboration is impeded by differences in who decides (and controls), who pays, and who benefits. The challenge is to conceive and realize innovative co-management structures that cross scales in order to promote sustainable development.
Session 6: Synthesis and prospect
Bill Clark (Harvard University) and Pam Matson (Stanford University) will chair a session involving presenters and members of the audience in an exploration of the implications of the Colloquium for future research, funding, and systematic efforts to better link knowledge with action for sustainable development.