ChapterPDF Available

Using evidence in environmental and sustainability issues

Evidence-informed policy
and practice
Edited by Annette Boaz, Huw Davies, Alec Fraser and
Sandra Nutley
First published in Great Britain in 2019 by
Policy Press North America oce:
University of Bristol Policy Press
1-9 Old Park Hill c/o The University of Chicago Press
Bristol 1427 East 60th Street
BS2 8BB Chicago, IL 60637, USA
UK t: +1 773 702 7700
t: +44 (0)117 954 5940 f: +1 773-702-9756
© Policy Press 2019
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested
ISBN 978-1-4473-4548-0 paperback
ISBN 978-1-4473-4547-3 hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4473-4549-7 ePub
ISBN 978-1-4473-4550-3 Mobi
ISBN 978-1-4473-4552-7 ePdf
The right of Annette Boaz, Huw Davies, Alec Fraser and Sandra Nutley to be identified as
editors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording,
or otherwise without the prior permission of Policy Press.
The statements and opinions contained within this publication are solely those of the editors
and contributors and not of the University of Bristol or Policy Press. The University of
Bristol and Policy Press disclaim responsibility for any injury to persons or property resulting
from any material published in this publication.
Policy Press works to counter discrimination on grounds of gender, race,
disability, age and sexuality.
Cover design by xxxxxxx
Front cover image: xxxxxx
Printed and bound in Great Britain by xxxxxxxx
Policy Press uses environmentally responsible print partners
Using evidence in environmental
and sustainability issues
Mark Reed and Laura Meagher
Introduction to evidence use in environmental and
sustainability issues
It could be argued that concerns about the environment have become
increasingly widespread, even mainstream. The word ‘environmentalist’
was coined as far back as 1902, and Rachel Carson helped to ignite an
environmental movement in 1962 with her book Silent Spring, which
drew attention to the adverse environmental eects of pesticides.
More recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change and Al Gore’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in
2007 have further highlighted the challenges, and increasing global
attention has been paid to climate change. When the internationally
agreed Millennium Development Goals were revised into a set of
17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, the choice of the word
‘sustainable’ was telling. Several goals are explicitly environmental
in orientation: climate action; life below water; and life on land. In
addition, other goals are closely interwoven with environmental issues,
such as clean water and sanitation; aordable and clean energy; good
health and well-being; and sustainable cities and communities, among
others. None of these is a simple challenge.
As individual nations and the international community grapple with
increasingly complex and interconnected environmental challenges in a
globalised and rapidly changing world, calls for evidence-based policy
have grown. However, environmental and sustainability issues present
particular challenges for evidence-informed policy and practice (EIPP)
for diverse reasons. These include: the political prominence and broad
sectoral reach of policies in this area (which often interact with a wide
range of other policy areas); tensions arising from policy making at
dierent levels (local, national, international); the wide range of spatial
What works now?
and temporal scales over which environmental processes operate; and
the complex, uncertain and often contested nature of the evidence base.
Powerful actors in this field may also seek to shape how problems
are conceptualised and addressed. For example, climate change
science, painstakingly constructed over decades, has to contend
with considerable levels of contestation and outright denial. More
insidiously, vested parties may seek to use evidence in partisan ways:
purporting to contribute data to scientific debate while nonetheless
muddying the waters over what is known and what is still in doubt (Box
8.1 provides a particularly interesting example of how the hydrocarbons
industry in the 1980s adopted many of the same obfuscating tactics
over anthropogenic climate change, as did the tobacco industry years
earlier over the health impacts of smoking).
Politics and vested interests aside, few other policy areas have to
consider such a range of spatial scales (for example, from battles over
the siting of a local supermarket to global climate change), alongside
temporal scales that range from rapid response within hours (for
example, to natural disasters) to the pursuit of sustainability goals and
targets over generational time-scales (for example, the United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals). Policy making in this area needs to
address issues that may have global causes beyond the jurisdiction of
any given policy maker, but may be felt locally in dierent ways by
Box 8.1: Selective use and non-use of evidence on climate
A publication in Environmental Research Letters (Supran and Oreskes, 2017) used
extensive documentary analysis to assess whether the ExxonMobil Corporation
had misled the public about the causes and consequences of climate change
over an extended period. The authors concluded that as documents from the
corporation became more publicly accessible they communicated a greater
degree of doubt as to whether climate change was real, human caused, serious
and solvable. For example, a large majority of internal documents (80% or more)
acknowledged that climate change is real and human caused, whereas only 12%
of ‘advertorials’ did so (such as op-ed pieces in large-circulation newspapers
like the New York Times), with over 80% of these pieces expressing doubt. The
authors conclude that ‘ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science –
by way of its scientists’ academic publications – but promoted doubt about it
in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the
public [about the evidence].’
dierent social groups. Policies need, therefore, to balance the need
to mitigate the causes of environmental degradation (often with very
limited budgets) with the need to enable communities to adapt to
unavoidable environmental change. They need to provide short-term
solutions to avert or cope with challenges such as flooding, while setting
in motion longer-term adaptive strategies that can reduce future impacts
and tackle underlying drivers of change. All in all, this is a tall order.
Compounding these challenges, evidence from research rarely forms
a single, clear-cut line of argument. The evidence base is often highly
fractured, for example providing evidence about just one locale or
habitat, or describing future environmental impacts based on natural
science alone, without considering social, cultural or economic factors.
Furthermore, the (developing) evidence base is often uncertain,
providing competing claims based on dierent methods and models.
These claims may be promoted in dierent ways by those with often
sharply divergent interests (see, for example, Box 8.1). Few citizens
or politicians have sucient technical understanding of environmental
science to be able to critically evaluate competing claims and counter-
claims, making it ‘relatively easy for a vocal, partisan minority to
sow confusion, hoping to justify delay and inaction by amplifying
uncertainties’ (Pidgeon and Fischho, 2011, p 35).
As a result, members of the policy community must interpret often-
contradictory research findings, alongside other lines of argument put
forward by actors with competing ideological framings (Pidgeon and
Fischho, 2011). Policies that promote sustainability inevitably involve
trade-os between protecting the natural environment and the social
and economic well-being of citizens. Policy makers must therefore
consider moral and ideological arguments alongside many and diverse
practicalities, such as budget constraints, political expediency and
unpredictable external events that change the parameters of decisions.
Bridgman and Davis (2000, p 31) describe this as a dynamic ‘policy
dance [of] seemingly random movements rather than choreographed
order’. Others have described the relationship between research and
policy in rather more cynical terms: as a way for governments to
legitimise policies with reference to evidence from research only
when it supports their politically driven priorities (Sanderson, 2002).
Indeed, the complex and multifaceted nature of environmental issues,
and the rapidly changing and sometimes internally contradictory body
of research knowledge, may facilitate picking and choosing by policy
makers in their claiming the support of research evidence (see also
Chapter Two).
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
This chapter, then, considers how evidence is created, understood,
synthesised and used in environmental and sustainability policy
development and implementation. The nature and use of evidence
here contrasts somewhat with the other policy and practice areas
covered in this section of the book, many of which have mirrored the
health sector’s trajectory of growing emphasis upon and then nuanced
departure from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) as the sine qua
non of evidence. In particular, this policy area requires evidence that
cuts across multiple systems and sectors, at diverse and sometimes very
large scales that are rarely needed in other policy arenas. The nature
of evidence ranges from quantitative empirical and modelled data to
qualitative and ethnographic accounts, including the ‘know-how’ of
‘what (seems to) work’ in practice and the ‘know-why’ process-based
understanding and theory generated by research (including formal
In a sense, lines between these types of evidence are becoming blurred
(sometimes deliberately so): research-based knowledge is increasingly
integrating insights from publics and stakeholders, and synthesising
evidence across multiple studies to provide more generalisable lessons
for policy making (see also discussions in Chapters Ten and Eleven).
There is an increasing move towards more participatory and co-
productive forms of evidence production, often in collaboration
with boundary organisations and knowledge intermediaries, with
the explicit goal of generating beneficial policy outcomes. There are
also a number of disparate disciplines providing evidence for policy in
this area, and many of these disciplines have distinctive approaches to
the generation and use of evidence. In this chapter we bring together
insights and approaches from across the range of disciplines and diverse
new initiatives that inform environmental and sustainability policy.
The nature of evidence for environmental and
sustainability issues
The nature of evidence informing environmental and sustainability
policy is particularly broad and increasingly integrated. It cuts across
multiple research areas and disciplines, and includes many forms of
expert knowledge beyond the academy (ranging from farmers to
international non-governmental organisations (NGOs)) as well as lay
knowledge such as that from citizen science initiatives. Evidence may
be drawn from the natural sciences (for example, climate modelling),
economics (for example, deliberative monetary or non-monetary
valuation of ecosystem services), social sciences (for example,
environmental governance) or the arts and humanities (for example,
environmental ethics and aesthetics).
Natural tensions often arise between these research realms in
approaches, methods, premises, foci for investigation, criteria for
analysis and even the very questions posed. Researchers from dierent
disciplines may reach quite dierent conclusions, and such tensions
can fracture the evidence base. Hence, policy input from one line of
research may not always align readily with input from a dierent line of
research, or indeed with knowledge from other sources, making it all
the more dicult for policy makers and practitioners to make decisions.
Knowledge arising from research is explicit (that is, it has been
articulated in written or spoken form) and tends to get systematised,
decontextualised and presented in forms that are (seen as or purported
to be) widely transferable. Thus, this type of knowledge is particularly
suited to policy-making processes that typically operate at national
scales or beyond (Norgaard, 1984; Ingram, 2008), advancing as it
does generalised and somewhat decontextualised arguments. Lundvall
and Johnson (1994) refer to this sort of knowledge as ‘know-why’
knowledge, because research typically attempts to understand the
underlying principles and theories that explain phenomena (sometimes
through experimental trials of specific interventions). They contrast this
with the (often practical, often local) ‘know-how’ knowledge held by
citizens and stakeholders, which may be more tacit, informal, context
dependent and rooted in experience and place.
The need to integrate these dierent knowledge bases has been
increasingly recognised by international bodies. For example, there
has been the explicit involvement of civil society organisations in
representing local knowledge in the development of the United
Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which
also enshrined their involvement in its implementation. However, the
inclusion of local knowledge in the science–policy interface of the
UNCCD, in common with equivalent bodies for the other two Rio
Conventions on biological diversity and climate change, is possible
only where these perspectives have been codified in peer-reviewed
literature. In this respect, then, little has changed since the World Bank
explained how it wanted to promote the use of local knowledge in its
‘indigenous knowledge for development framework’: only after it has
been tested and legitimised by formal ‘scientific proof’ (World Bank,
1998, p 6). This approach has been described by some as ‘post-colonial’;
or, as Briggs and Sharp (2004, p 667) put it, ‘it is still the scientific
view, in all its wisdom, that can decide which indigenous knowledge
is worthy of serious investigation and dissemination’. There are now
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
calls for a new kind of science in which stakeholders and publics move
from being passive recipients of knowledge or objects of study, to being
equal partners in the research process (Keeler et al, 2017).
The rationalist epistemological argument is perhaps a more benign
explanation for the privileged position given to scientific evidence in
many policy-making processes, compared to claims of post-colonialism
or the selective use of evidence to legitimise decisions. However,
there is a well-rehearsed counter-argument from constructivism that
suggests that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is socially
constructed and influenced by culture, history and context.
The emergence of environmentalism, as it gave rise to many of the
policies that now protect our environment, provides a particularly clear
demonstration of this perspective. These policies reflect the shift in
Western civilisation from utilitarian perceptions of nature as something
to be used for human benefit, towards an ethical position that protects
nature for its intrinsic value. Much contemporary environmental and
sustainability policy can be traced back to Aldo Leopold’s (1949) famous
‘land ethic’, in which he argued for the moral standing we give to
other humans to be extended to non-human species and landscapes:
‘all ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual
is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic
simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils,
waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land’ (Leopold, 1949,
p 203). Viewed in this way, it is clear that both conservation science
and policy are based on a normative set of ethics and assumptions
that predispose researchers to pose and answer some questions and
not others. In this light, dierent arguments pertaining to the human
(typically economic) trade-os arising from environmental policies may
have an equally valid evidence base, but in response to very dierent
questions. The nature of relevant evidence in this field remains, then,
very contested.
Production and synthesis of research-based knowledge for
environmental and sustainability issues
Despite emerging nuances as to what constitutes ‘knowledge’, some
defend the primacy of scientific knowledge on epistemological grounds
as the only way of finding rational argument and universal truth upon
which policy can be based. The response to the conflicting accounts
often provided by science is to simply seek more and better research,
and/or more and better synthesis. This section concentrates on the
strategies and structures encouraging the latter.
There is an expanding range of tools available to summarise
knowledge, from expert-led, comprehensive meta-analyses and
systematic reviews and more time-ecient rapid evidence reviews,
to approaches that incorporate the knowledge and perspectives of
stakeholders and publics. These engaged synthesis methods range from
participatory methods such as citizens’ juries to the incorporation of
lay knowledge in systems models through Bayesian approaches (that
is, where participants’ prior beliefs are adjusted by new data placed in
front of them).
Initiatives in this area have proliferated. The Collaboration for
Environmental Evidence coordinates six centres focused on synthesising
evidence on issues relating to environmental policy and practice, based
in Australia, Canada, France, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. Each
centre secures its own funds and has its own set of interests (such as
mining, fisheries or agriculture), but they all contribute to a collective
eort at synthesising knowledge for environmental management. In
addition, the journal Conservation Evidence now produces an annual
What Works in Conservation publication providing synoptic evidence
summaries. Data quality of primary studies is a huge problem for
synthesis initiatives, significantly limiting the number of studies that
are available for review, but synthesis initiatives are raising awareness in
the research community about ways of improving research design and
data collection to enable more eective summations to be conducted
in future.
The nature of the challenges being tackled by initiatives such as
these is typically broad, requiring multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary
approaches to the production of evidence. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ is an
approach to producing and synthesising research that has been heralded
in many arenas, but it is perhaps most strikingly vital to addressing
problems relating to the environment and sustainability. Even what
seems to be a singular field, such as environmental science, actually
incorporates a wide range of approaches, paradigms and questions.
Just one of the disciplines within its umbrella, ecology, has itself been
labelled a ‘portmanteau field’, because when it emerged as a discipline
it carried with it a variety of approaches (Phillipson et al, 2009).
Interdisciplinarity beyond the natural sciences is mandated when
issues of sustainability arise, with evidence from dierent fields being
needed for crucial elements of societal well-being, the economy,
individual behaviours and so on. Many perceive interdisciplinary
integration as vital to providing evidence in a form useful to policy
makers and practitioners dealing with complex problems (Lowe et al,
2013; O’Brien et al, 2013). Indeed, as well as contributing integrated
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
solutions to problems, eective development of interdisciplinarity shares
many of the behaviours of eective knowledge exchange. What works
for both processes includes actions such as: joint framing of problems;
arriving at some level of reciprocal understanding; building relationships
characterised by mutual trust; and development of respect for all roles
involved (Lyall et al, 2011). An early and still leading example of what
works in combining interdisciplinarity with knowledge exchange and
impact generation is the UK Research Council-funded Rural Economy
and Land Use programme (RELU, described subsequently in Box 8.4).
Within the UK, research councils, which have long been separated
by the cluster of disciplines that each one supports, are being combined
into a single entity. Along with economies of scale, there is doubtless
a hypothesis (as yet untested, and not yet fully articulated) that this
will facilitate interdisciplinary synthesis. Development of capacity
for interdisciplinarity among UK researchers takes various forms.
Frequently, large-scale research programmes, such as the RELU
initiative or the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation, aim for
outcomes from multiple disciplinary inputs and, in so doing, can enable
at least some researchers to behave in new ways.
Explicit interdisciplinary attention is also sometimes paid to
developing the next generation of researchers, such as the PhD
fellowship programme run jointly for several years between the Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and
Social Research Council (ESRC). Currently, the two councils are
jointly supporting a centre for doctoral training in risk and mitigation,
using big data; ‘the aim of the consortium is to produce a cohort of
researchers who can use large or complex datasets to understand and
ease the risks posed by a range of societal and environmental changes’
(NERC, 2017). While challenges of inappropriate peer reviewing and
obstacles in career pathways still exist, the recognition of the need for
interdisciplinary research and research capacity has grown. Taking this
further, many countries use the word ‘transdisciplinarity’ to encompass
work that is both interdisciplinary and inclusive of stakeholders. While
retaining the two terms of ‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘stakeholder impact’,
UK research funders also often seek this combination (Lyall et al, 2015).
Recent decades, then, have seen increasing attention given to the
challenges of integrating and synthesising knowledge, leading to
a proliferation of approaches with strong interlinking to eventual
knowledge use. It is to this latter issue specifically that we now turn.
Encouraging and enabling evidence use in the
environmental and sustainability arena
The Impact Case Study Database (created for the 2014 UK Research
Excellence Framework) provides many examples of research impact
in the environmental and sustainability area. But, despite these
documented examples of impact, it is perhaps unsurprising that
there remain very real challenges to the use of evidence. One thing
is clear: genuine involvement of stakeholders and their knowledge(s)
is critical, although the practice of this is challenging and sometimes
still contested. Several key approaches to encouraging and enabling
evidence use by policy makers and practitioners are discussed in this
section. Most of these are seeing increased attention and investment,
and they include: knowledge co-production; the development of
boundary organisations; the promotion of impact-driven research
initiatives; and the use of knowledge intermediaries and relationship
Knowledge co-production
In response to the challenges of producing and synthesising research-
based knowledge (reviewed in the previous section), there is increasing
interest in models of deliberation and co-production for environmental
policy (for example, Pohl et al, 2010). The deliberative democracy
literature argues for increasing decentralisation of environmental policy to
enable greater civic engagement in the development and implementation
of policy (for example, Hysing, 2013). Assuming that values are made
explicit, there is some evidence that deliberation can alter contextual
values (for example, the financial value placed on ecosystem service
benefits) over short time-scales (for example, a single workshop), but
deeper-held, transcendental values (for example, the non-utilitarian
value of ecosystems due to their intrinsic value or the rights of future
human generations and non-humans) are likely to require engagement
over much longer periods of time (Everard et al, 2016).
More co-productive approaches shift the locus of control from the
government to the governed, where new ideas can be developed
jointly between members of the research, policy and wider stakeholder
communities to tackle highly contested issues (for example, Reed et al,
2017). Increasingly, this is conceived as a nested hierarchy of interacting
governance levels, with the institutions of governance in these levels
typically diering in the scale of their jurisdiction and level of formality
(often referred to as ‘multilevel’ or ‘polycentric’ governance; Newig
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
and Fritsch, 2009). Challies et al (2017) describe multilevel governance
as a ‘governance learning process’ through which policy makers draw
on evidence and experience to learn about how to design and execute
eective participatory decision making. To more eectively co-produce
evidence-based policy in these ways, two important research challenges
must be addressed; here we will first consider the specific challenge of
designing and deploying eective ‘boundary organisations’, followed by
a brief discussion of the power of large-scale, impact-oriented research
initiatives and the often diuse but influential roles played by diverse
‘knowledge intermediaries’.
Boundary organisations
It is often proposed that the co-production and practical application
of new ideas by researchers and policy actors is coordinated through
institutions (often described as boundary organisations) in safe places
where these ideas can be tested and refined (often described as ‘niches’).
It is argued that such ‘socio-technical innovations’ have the capacity
to disrupt stable societal structures and norms, so that society can
transition to a new way of doing things (for example, from fossil fuel
to renewable energy systems; Geels, 2005). However, there have been
limited attempts, to date, to create the sorts of boundary organisations
that could be capable of facilitating the co-production of policy
innovations at these societal scales.
Real challenges exist in the design of boundary organisations and
safe institutional spaces or niches in which evidence-based policy
innovations can be co-produced and tested at societal scales. For this
to happen, Hanger et al (2013) argue that boundary organisations
must facilitate and manage a wide range of complex processes (Box
8.2). These include the creation of suitable boundary objects (such as
scenarios, assessments and data models) that can become the focus of
dialogue, and the maintenance of multiple lines of accountability and
governance (Box 8.2). Limited systematic knowledge regarding the
creation of boundary organisations suggests that there may be scope
for learning from successful examples (for example, ClimateXChange
– described in Box 8.3).
While still in its early stages, ClimateXChange is an example of a new
type of boundary organisation that could be used as a model elsewhere
to draw on the best available evidence quickly while benefiting from
long-term, strategic research. Reflection upon the relevance of its list
of identified success factors could be useful to others establishing or
leading boundary organisations of various types.
Box 8.2: The role of boundary organisations
Hanger et al (2013) argue that boundary organisations must facilitate the
following core processes:
1 double participation, that is, people from both or multiple domains need
to be involved;
2 dual accountability, that is, work needs to conform to both scientific and
policy standards;
3 use of boundary objects, where discussions can come together, for example
scenarios, assessment reports and data modelling;
4 boundary management/co-production, that is, communication, translation
and mediation between science and policy; and
5 meta-governance, that is, orchestration of knowledge across jurisdictional
Box 8.3: The operation of ClimateXChange (CXC) as a
boundary organisation
The Scottish Government has pioneered a new model for evidence-based policy
that enables policy makers to get high-quality evidence quickly from some of the
best researchers in the country, while continuing to support long-term strategic
research to tackle complex, global challenges (Wreford et al, 2018).
One of the Scottish Government’s new Centres of Expertise, ClimateXChange
(CXC), connects a network of government and university researchers across
Scotland to get the best possible evidence into policy fast. Some of this is
existing evidence, critically reviewed and translated to answer specific questions.
Some of the evidence is new primary research, rapidly designed and deployed
and then communicated to contribute towards policy development. All of this
takes place in the context of a longer-term strategic programme of research
(conducted at multiple institutions) to provide long-term datasets and tackle
more complex issues.
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
CXC represents a new type of boundary organisation that can balance short-term
evidence needs with the need for longer-term strategic research, integrating
knowledge from a large and diverse pool of world-leading expertise. Evidence
from interviews with CXC researchers and members of the policy community
identified a number of features that were critical to the success of CXC as a
boundary organisation.
There are no magic bullets: the success of an organisation such as this takes
time and reinvention, using many different methods. It is highly dependent
on the context in which it needs to operate, on the people involved and on
changing policy contexts and evidence needs.
Two-way, trusting and long-term relationships are critical to overcoming
barriers between policy makers and scientists.
The timing of engagement with researchers is critical to ensuring that evidence
and expertise are targeted effectively at relevant points in the policy process,
where they can provide greatest influence and benefits. Flexibility at project
and organisational level, including the ability to draw together different
knowledge and skill bases, helps to enable research to remain relevant to
evolving policy needs.
Researchers need incentives to participate: although opportunities for peer-
reviewed papers and research funding remain potent, policy impacts are
increasingly being rewarded (for example, through the UK’s Research Excellence
Framework and via promotion criteria).
Instead of generating knowledge primarily via research push or policy pull, true
co-production of knowledge is needed to provide cutting-edge research that
has genuine policy relevance. CXC’s role in push/pull activities is balanced by
sitting within a strategic research framework that is able to advocate more
‘blue-skies’ innovation to the policy community.
What works now?
Impact-driven research initiatives
As a more general challenge, including but not limited to boundary
organisations, it is necessary to overcome structural barriers to the
flows of knowledge so that research initiatives can focus more clearly
on impacts. These barriers exist concurrently with increasing trends
towards encouraging or demanding impacts among research funders
who themselves are finding it necessary to work together in new ways
when tackling complex challenges such as sustainability. Increasingly,
agencies funding research have encouraged and/or required researchers
to propose ‘pathways’ to impact when bidding for support, and this
emphasis is particularly conspicuous in large-scale, often multifunder,
interdisciplinary initiatives tackling complex problems.
Relatively early in this trend, a bold initiative relating to the
environment was funded with over £26.5 million between 2004
and 2013 by an assembly of research funders. The RELU initiative
had interdisciplinarity and (two-way) knowledge exchange as its key
interwoven themes. An external evaluation (Meagher, 2012) identified
a range of successful impacts stemming both from the programme
and from individual projects – but these did not arise spontaneously.
Lessons were learned through the RELU that have proved useful not
only to research leaders but also to research funders, among whom an
increase in confidence in this sort of initiative was identified (Box 8.4).
Knowledge intermediaries and relationship building
Boundary organisations and targeted large-scale initiatives are certainly
not the only mechanisms for overcoming structural barriers to the flows
of knowledge between members of the policy community, researchers
and stakeholders. It is perhaps especially important to note the facilitative
role played at a variety of levels in a variety of ways by ‘knowledge
intermediaries’ or ‘knowledge brokers’. Notably heterogeneous, and
quite often ‘under-sung’, these are individuals or entities comfortable
with the languages and concerns of both researchers and stakeholders,
and they frequently act as proactive facilitators of knowledge flows,
sometimes with a degree of translation (Reed, 2016).
In the environmental arena as well as elsewhere, people-based
processes such as trust building and relationship building have been
shown to be key to generating impacts (for example, Jagosh et al, 2015;
Reed et al, 2018). This has implications for how research units are
run, how intermediaries are supported and the degree to which such
‘soft’ processes are enabled or rewarded (Greenhalgh and Fahy, 2015;
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
Box 8.4: The Rural Environment and Land Use (RELU)
initiative: interdisciplinarity and impact
The RELU aimed to foster knowledge exchange and have impact by:
the requirement that all funded projects should engage in knowledge exchange;
the organisation of combined researcher and stakeholder events, and the
creation of stakeholder advisory forums;
the creation of cross-boundary work-shadowing and visiting fellowships;
the expectation of publication of accessible policy and practice briefing notes.
It was clear that the RELU’s central goal of interdisciplinarity contributed to
its companion goal of knowledge exchange. For example, those involved in the
programme (stakeholders and researchers) overwhelmingly agreed that the
RELU’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity enhanced the capacity of its researchers
to deliver integrated understanding relevant to stakeholder problems. When
researchers and stakeholders were asked for key lessons learned, they emphasised
the importance of:
requiring early engagement of stakeholders;
a central pot of discretionary money.
In addition to a suite of impacts arising from constituent projects, the external
evaluation identified several overarching legacies of the RELU programme:
enhanced conceptual and practical understanding of land use;
influence in the research and science policy arenas, particularly in the growth
of acceptance of interdisciplinarity in policy-relevant research and in a shift
from a model of one-way knowledge transfer to two-way knowledge exchange;
evidence of a set of approaches that can deliver research impacts.
Source: Abstracted from Meagher, 2012.
What works now?
Meagher and Martin, 2017). Recognising, supporting, incentivising
and enabling individuals, units and institutions to play knowledge-
intermediary roles can engender the two-way dialogue between
researchers and stakeholders that is most likely to lead towards EIPP
(Meagher and Lyall, 2013).
Reflections and conclusions
Environmental issues are complex and multifaceted; approaches to
addressing them are no less multilayered. It is increasingly recognised
that diverse knowledge claims need to be evaluated as part of
environmental policy-making processes (for example, Sanderson, 2006;
Crilly et al, 2010). Rather than viewing these competing knowledge
claims as a problem, it could be helpful to view dierent knowledge
bases as potentially complementary, and where possible to integrate
the ‘know-how’ of ‘what works’ in the experience of citizens and
stakeholders with the ‘know-why’ process-based understanding and
theory of researchers. There have been some moves in this direction
in national and international environmental policy making, but the
tension between what is seen as objective knowledge from research
and the usually less formalised knowledge from other communities,
such as local inhabitants, remains.
Instead of automatically privileging research evidence above other
forms of knowledge, a mixed approach weighs knowledge from
dierent sources, recognising the potential for evidence from research to
be contradicted or disproved, and the potential for less formal types of
knowledge to provide valuable insights upon which more eective and
responsive policies can be built. The critical evaluation and synthesis
of some knowledges may be more challenging than others, especially
those that are tacit (the knowledge we hold but of which we are not
consciously aware) or implicit (knowledge that can be, but has not
yet been, articulated). There is evidence that implicit knowledge can
be useful for managing complex systems if it can be articulated – for
example, providing detailed information about how systems work on
the basis of many years’ experience living and working with a given
system or wider context (Olsson et al, 2004; Fazey et al, 2006).
Given the multiplicity of perspectives surrounding what are often
emotive issues relating to the environment and sustainability, it is
not surprising that explorations of participatory research have taken
place, for example, regarding the development and implementation
of natural resource management plans (Blackstock et al, 2015) or
participatory scenario planning in local communities (Brown et al,
2016). Learning from analysis of this sort of research may become
increasingly relevant as complex decisions are made regarding what will
inevitably be trade-os relating to both society and the environment.
Indeed, learning continues to emerge from formal impact evaluations of
research programmes as well as from critical reflection during complex
initiatives (for example, Roux et al, 2010; Spaapen and van Drooge,
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
2011; Meagher and Lyall, 2013). Capturing such learning should
progress our understanding of what works in supporting evidence use.
In sum, then, policy and practice relating to the environment and
sustainability face many challenges in using research-based evidence.
These challenges include: the inherent complexity of the issues involved;
dependence upon integration across multiple fields of evidence, even
within the environmental sciences; political considerations, including
but not limited to the potential for short-term decisions, avoidance of
controversy and/or selective use of agreeable evidence; and the need
for multi-way exchange across diverse audiences. However, at the same
time, research into the processes through which knowledge is produced
and used has spawned a number of practical strategies that have the
potential to enhance engagement between the research and policy
communities around these complex issues. These include the increased
incentives for interdisciplinary integration and the increased emphasis
(by governments, research funding agencies, institutions) upon the
generation of research-informed impacts beyond academia. Learning
from an increasing portfolio of ‘experiments’ about how to conduct
knowledge exchange is also key, alongside a growing appreciation
of the need to incorporate dierent sorts of knowledge along with
more formal research-based knowledge (such as the tacit knowledge
of practitioners and the experiential knowledge of communities).
Taken together, then, and without minimising the weight of scientific,
practical and political challenges to addressing issues in the environment
and sustainability, these trends show how ambitious initiatives can bring
research-based evidence more eectively to the fore.
Blackstock, K.L., Dinnie, L., Dilley, R., Marshall, K., Dunglinson, J.,
Trench, H., Harper, K., Finan, K., MacPherson, J., Johnston, E. and
Grin, A. (2015) ‘Participatory research to influence participatory
governance: managing relationships with planners’, Area, 47, pp
Bridgman, P. and Davis, G. (2000) Australian policy handbook, 2nd edn,
St Leonards: Allen and Unwin.
Briggs, J. and Sharp, J. (2004) ‘Indigenous knowledges and development:
A postcolonial caution’, Third World Quarterly, 25, pp 661–76.
Brown, I., Martin-Ortega, J., Waylen, K.A. and Blackstock, K.L.
(2016) ‘Participatory scenario planning for developing innovation in
community adaptation responses: three contrasting examples from
Latin America’, Regional Environmental Change, 16: pp 1685–1700.
Challies, E., Newig, J., Kochskämper, E. and Jager, N.W. (2017)
‘Governance change and governance learning in Europe: stakeholder
participation in environmental policy implementation’, Policy and
Society, 36 (2), pp 288–303.
Crilly, T., Jashapara, A. and Ferlie, E. (2010) Research utilisation and
knowledge mobilisation: a scoping review of the literature. Report for the
National Institute for Health Research Service Delivery and Organization,
London: Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO.
Everard, M., Kenter, J.O. and Reed, M.S. (2016) ‘The ripple eect:
Institutionalising pro-environmental values to shift societal norms
and behaviours’, Ecosystem Services, 21, pp 230–40.
Fazey, I., Proust, K., Newell, B., Johnson, B. and Fazey J.A. (2006)
‘Eliciting the implicit knowledge and perceptions of on-ground
conservation managers of the Macquarie Marshes’, Ecology and Society,
11, art 25.
Geels, F.W. (2005) Technological transitions and system innovations: a co-
evolutionary and socio-technical analysis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar
Greenhalgh, T. and Fahy, N. (2015) ‘Research impact in the
community-based health sciences: an analysis of 162 case studies from
the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework’, BMC Medicine, 13
(1), pp 1–12.
Hanger, S., Pfenninger, S., Dreyfus, M. and Patt, A. (2013) ‘Knowledge
and information needs of adaptation policy-makers: a European
study’, Regional Environmental Change, 13 (1), pp 91–101.
Hysing, E. (2013) ‘Representative democracy, empowered experts,
and citizen participation: visions of green governing’, Environmental
Politics, 22, pp 955–74.
Ingram J. (2008) ‘Are farmers in England equipped to meet the
knowledge challenge of sustainable soil management? An analysis of
farmer and advisor views’, Journal of Environmental Management, 86,
pp 214–28.
Jagosh, J., Bush, P.L., Salsberg, J., Macaulay, A., Greenhalgh, T., Wong,
G., Cargo, M., Green, L.W., Herbert, C. and Pluye, P. (2015) ‘A realist
evaluation of community-based participatory research: partnership
synergy, trust building and related ripple eects’, BMC Public Health,
15, p 725.
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
Keeler, B.L., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Guerry, A.,Addison, P.F.E.,
Bettigole, C., Burke, I.C., Gentry, B., Chambliss, L., Young, C.,
Travis, A.J., Darimont, C.T., Gordon, D.R., Hellmann, J., Kareiva, P.,
Monfort, S., Olander, L., Profeta, T., Possingham, H.P., Slotterback,
C., Sterling, E., Ticktin, T., and Vira, B. (2017)‘Society is ready
for a new kind of science – is academia?’, Bioscience, 67: pp 591–2.
Leopold, A. (1949) A sand county almanac, New York: Oxford
University Press.
Lowe, P., Phillipson, J. and Wilkinson, K. (2013) ‘Why social scientists
should engage with natural scientists’, Contemporary Social Science, 8,
pp 207–22.
Lundvall, B.A. and Johnson, B. (1994) ‘The learning economy’, Journal
of Industry Studies, 1, pp 23–42.
Lyall, C., Meagher, L.R. and Bruce, A. (2015) ‘A rose by any other
name? Transdisciplinarity in the context of UK research policy’,
Futures,65, pp 150–62.
Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J., and Meagher, L. (2011) Interdisciplinary
Research Journeys: Practical strategies for capturing creativity, London:
Bloomsbury Academic Press.
Meagher, L. (2012) ‘Societal and economic impact evaluation, rural
economy and land use initiative’,
part-one/ (accessed 4 June 2017).
Meagher, L. and Lyall, C. (2013) ‘The invisible made visible: using
impact evaluations to illuminate and inform the role of knowledge
intermediaries’, Evidence and Policy, 9 (3), pp 409–18, doi:
Meagher, L. and Martin, U. (2017) ‘Slightly dirty maths: the richly
textured mechanisms of impact’, Research Evaluation, doi: https://
NERC (2017) ‘Centre for doctoral training in risk and mitigation;
using big data’,
focused/cdt/risk (accessed 28 February 2017).
Newig, J. and Fritsch, O. (2009) ‘Environmental governance:
participatory, multi-level and eective?’, Environmental Policy and
Governance, 19, pp 197–214.
Norgaard, R. (1984) ‘Traditional agricultural knowledge: past
performance, future prospects and institutional implications’, American
Agricultural Economics Association, 66, pp 874–8.
O’Brien, L. Marzano, M. and White, R. (2013) ‘“Participatory
interdisciplinarity”: towards the integration of disciplinary diversity
with stakeholder engagement for new models of knowledge
production’, Science and Public Policy, 40 (1), pp 51–61.
Olsson, P., Folke, C. and Berkes, F. (2004) ‘Adaptive co-management
for building resilience in social-ecological systems’, Environmental
Management, 34, pp 75–90.
Phillipson, J., Lowe, P., Bullock, J.M. (2009) ‘Navigating the social
sciences: interdisciplinarity and ecology’, Journal of Applied Ecology,
46 (2) pp 261–4.
Pidgeon, N. and Fischho, B. (2011) ‘The role of social and decision
sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks’, Nature Climate
Change, 1 (1), pp 35–41.
Pohl, C., Rist, S.,Zimmermann, A., Fry, P., Gurung, G.S., Schneider,
F., Speranza, C.I., Kiteme, B., Boillat, S., Serrano, E., Hadorn,
G.H. and Wiesmann, U. (2010) ‘Researchers’ roles in knowledge
co-production: experience from sustainability research in Kenya,
Switzerland, Bolivia and Nepal’, Science and Public Policy, 37 (4), pp
Reed, M.S. (2016) The Research Impact Handbook, Huntly: Fast Track
Reed, M.S., Bryce, R. and Machen, R. (2018) ‘Pathways to policy
impact: a new approach for planning and evidencing research impact’,
Evidence and Policy (forthcoming).
Roux, D.J., Stirzaker, R.J., Breen, C.M., Lefroy, E.C. and Cresswell,
H.P. (2010) ‘Framework for participative reflection on the
accomplishment of transdisciplinary research programs’, Environmental
Science and Policy, 13, pp 733–41.
Sanderson, I. (2002) ‘Evaluation, policy learning and evidence-based
policy making’, Public Administration, 80 (1), pp 1–22.
Sanderson, I. (2006) ‘Complexity, “practical rationality” and evidence-
based policy making’, Policy & Politics, 34, pp 115–32.
Spaapen, J. and van Drooge, L. (2011) ‘Introducing “productive
interactions”, in social impact assessment’,Research Evaluation, 20
(3), pp 211–18.
Supran, G. and Oreskes, N. (2017) Environmental Research Letters, 12,
World Bank (1998) ‘Indigenous knowledge for development: a
framework for development. Knowledge and Learning Centre, Africa
Region’, World Bank,
Using evidence on environmental and sustainability issues
What works now?
Wreford, A., Martin, S. and Reed, M.S. (2018, in preparation) ‘A new
model for evidence-based policy that pools expertise and balances
rapid evidence generation with strategic research’, Nature Climate
... The American Alumni Council (AAC) was formed in the 1910s and 1920s, which taught institutions the importance of engaging with alumni and tracking these activity and fundraising efforts (Keane Carter, 1988;Skinner, 2019). In addition, two other associations formed: the American College Public Relations Association (ACPRA) was founded in 1917 with a focus on public relations (originally American Association of College News Bureaus) (Reck, 1976;Skinner, 2019); and the American Association of Fundraising Counsel was founded in 1935 to create and form fair practice standards for fundraising, which up until that point was largely unregulated (The Giving Institute; Thelin & Trollinger, 2014). Each of these organizations focused on standards, resources, and a place for similar professionals to come together and talk about their knowledge in their area of the profession. ...
... Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel (1998) point out that practitioners closest to the subject or field have the best and most intimate knowledge of the work. It is intuitive and comes from an understanding of how situations can change and evolve-it is subjective, based on an individual's experiences and the knowledge in their mind they have gained about a field and their work over time (Bennet & Bennet, 2008;Nonaka, 1994;Reed & Meagher, 2019). This is where tacit knowledge lies. ...
... Tacit knowledge involves knowledge that cannot be easily or directly stated in words and shared (Bennet & Bennet, 2008;Reed & Meagher, 2019). Tacit knowledge is "knowledge that you do not get from being taught, or from books, etc. but get from personal experience, for example when working in a particular organization" (University of Cambridge, n.d.-c, section 1). ...
Full-text available
This dissertation study seeks to better understand two main ideas around institutional advancement in higher education: the knowledge and evidence that informs practice and the structures and systems that are set up for the sharing of this knowledge and evidence within and across these organizations. I use a conceptual framework based on organizational systems, learning, and culture theories along with the tenets of evidence-informed policy and practice (EIPP) to delve deeper into my research questions. These research questions include: 1) To what extent do advancement divisions value certain types of evidence and knowledge? 2) What types of evidence and knowledge do advancement divisions utilize to inform their practice and policies? 2a) What organizational practices and individual and organizational characteristics, if any, affect which knowledge guides the work of advancement organizations? 3) What organizational learning systems and structures are in place both within and outside advancement organizations that guide practice and internal policy making? 4) What sociodemographic and organizational characteristics, if any, show a relationship with systems and structures of knowledge management and mobilization of institutional advancement shops? I draw on an original data set that combines responses from survey methodology and data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) AMAtlas Data Miner and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) (n=1,826). Using a combination of descriptive statistics, ordinal logistic regression (OLR), and linear regression, I add to the literature base on philanthropy in higher education and gain insight into my research questions. The field of institutional advancement is understudied and often relies on anecdotal evidence versus more theory-based understanding of how work is carried out (Drezner, 2011; Drezner & Huehls, 2014; Walton, 2019). These findings push the field’s understanding of what knowledge, evidence, and learning systems and structures drive and guide the work of advancement. Advancement organizations value all types of knowledge and evidence in their work, including tacit, explicit, embedded, and research based. However, there is an incongruency between this valuing of all knowledge and evidence types and day-to-day practice. Practitioners are more likely to use and share tacit, explicit, embedded knowledge and evidence sources than research based. In addition to these findings, I find that advancement practitioners share knowledge and evidence using a multitude of different learning structures and systems both within their organization and across the broader field of institutional advancement. My study uses organizational theory and tenets of EIPP to highlight the ways that advancement practice can be further understood and improved. These improvements are critical to ensure that the field works towards a model of equity and inclusion for all alumni, donors, and stakeholders. In addition, with changing demographics and decreased alumni participation rates, the findings from my study are more important than ever to ensure the sustainability of these organizations for generations to come.
... identify indicators of quality of engagement at each stage of an engaged research (Wall et al., 2017). At the program level, multiple and comparable project-scale evaluations can be employed to assess the impacts of a program's funding portfolio and provide recommendations for program improvement (Reed & Meagher, 2019). In the private foundation context, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation's Conservation Science program apply embedded evaluation -from solicitation design to post-hoc evaluation -to improve the overall ability of their program to link science with action (Rowe & Lee, 2012). ...
... ), making it less conducive to the kinds of engaged and interactive research approaches understood to link science with sustainability action(Balvanera et al., 2017;Mauser et al., 2013;Moser, 2016;Reed & Meagher, 2019). Widespread and growing attention to the social contract for science implies the need to reconfigure this arrangement, but it remains unclear who is responsible for, or how to implement, changes in how we do or fund science. ...
Disruptions to our climate and other systems critical to sustaining life on Earth increasingly call for aggressive societal action. Science can help inform these actions, yet a gap between scientific knowledge production and use persists. Whereas science has traditionally separated itself from society, alternative models of producing science seek out inspiration from societal needs and interact with potential users during the research process. Previous studies indicate more engaged and collaborative approaches to producing science, or co-production, can generate more actionable scientific knowledge while also enabling more inclusive research cultures. Despite growing inclination across the science system to co-produce knowledge, it remains unclear how co-production will contribute at the speed and scale demanded by unfolding crises in climate and sustainability. For example, scaling up co-production must attend to its potentially high costs, navigate diverse inputs of expertise, perspectives and values, while at the same time demonstrating meaningful progress on solutions. This dissertation contributes new, more extensive empirical data and analysis about the drivers and mechanisms of co-production with the aim to better understand how to accelerate the development of actionable sustainability science. Going beyond the existing case-specific literature, I investigate a large number of applied research projects and science funding programs to explore the role of public funding as a mechanism for changing the way science is produced and used. Specifically, I ask three questions: 1) Can funding requirements that encourage more interaction between scientists and users lead to an increase in scientific knowledge co-production? 2) To what extent do research practices, especially those related to co-production, result in more knowledge use? 3) To what extent is science funding already reshaping the way science engages with society? In the first half of the dissertation, I create a new database of coastal and estuarine research projects (n=120) and conduct interviews with grantees and intended users (n=40). This data shows how funding program design changes that require collaboration with users cultivate the practice of co-production, resulting in more intensive interactions and increasing evidence of knowledge use over time. I also find that this more deliberate effort to fund and co-produce usable science does not, on its own, help overcome the longstanding methodological obstacles that its study entails. In the second half, I explore the wider landscape of public science funding. First, I review recent science policy literature about what types of funding program design changes may influence research practice and outcomes. Then, I analyze science funding program solicitations (n=33) and interview program managers (n=61) in the U.S. and Europe. This fieldscan depicts science funders actively considering how science best engages with society and deploying numerous strategies that could reshape underlying societal expectations for science. Overall, this dissertation documents a transition toward collaborative models of research practice and sponsorship, an evolution that may accelerate progress in linking science with solving sustainability problems. Capitalizing on future opportunities for learning through experimentation with different research modes and funding styles is still necessary to advance a more practice-relevant science of actionable knowledge.
... The task may also seem bound to produce unsatisfactory results as summaries often fail to capture subtleties. On the other hand, the arguments for making this investment are well rehearsed, particularly in the context of interdisciplinarity, where cross-domain translation is necessary (Rust 2004;MacLeod 2018;Reed and Meagher 2019;Bammer et al. 2020). Beyond the question of the value of the exercise, we must consider that domain researchers are, on the whole, under-resourced and time poor. ...
Full-text available
The North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) community initiated dataARC to develop digital research infrastructures to support their work on long-term human-ecodynamics in the North Atlantic. These infrastructures were designed to address the challenges of sharing research data, the connections between those data and high-level interpretations, and the interpretations themselves. In parallel, they were also designed to support the reuse of diverse data that underpin transdisciplinary synthesis research and to contextualise materials disseminated widely to the public more firmly in their evidence base. This article outlines the research infrastructure produced by the project and reflects on its design and development. We outline the core motivations for dataARC's work and introduce the tools, platforms and (meta)data products developed. We then undertake a critical review of the project's workflow. This review focuses on our understanding of the needs of stakeholder groups, the principles that guided the design of the infrastructure, and the extent to which these principles are successfully promoted in the current implementation. Drawing on this assessment, we consider how the infrastructure, in whole or in part, might be reused by other transdisciplinary research communities. Finally, we highlight key socio-technical gaps that may emerge as structural barriers to transdisciplinary, engaged, and open research if left unaddressed.
... Addressing these short-comings to meet the need for science that serves society has often emphasized the need for a new type of science (Lubchenco 1998, Van Kerkhoff and Lebel 2006, Lemos et al 2012, Kirchhoff et al 2013, Moss et al 2013; far fewer calls have examined pathways for developing a new type of scientist (but see Rapley and De Meyer 2014, Rapley et al 2014, Lozano et al 2019. Here we focus on one course of action needed to ensure that the scientific enterprise is actively engaged in meeting society's pressing environmental challenges: changing how we train and support scientists so they can do the kind of societally engaged research shown to increase the ability of decision-makers to apply climate science to policy and management (Reed andMeagher 2019, Mach et al 2020). ...
Full-text available
A major barrier to achieving wide-spread progress on planning for impacts from climate change is the lack of trained scientists skilled at conducting societally-relevant research. Overcoming this barrier requires us to transform the way we train scientists so they are equipped to work with a range of different societal partners and institutions to produce the science needed to address climate change and society’s other pressing environmental challenges. As researchers at climate research organizations that work directly with decision-makers and stakeholders to produce decision-relevant science, we are entrenched in advancing actionable climate science. Based on our experience preparing scientists for similar careers, we offer a perspective on a path for the academy to better develop, train and support scientists to conduct societally relevant research. We emphasize the need for science training that builds collaborative science skills at different career stages to develop a strong community of practice around actionable climate science. We offer insights from our training and capacity-building programs to demonstrate this transformation, and point to strategies that can be adopted at other universities to grow the capacity of scientists to support society in achieving rapid progress on climate action.
... As a result, ESE policy can take as its focus a range of potential 'topics, missions, strategies, approaches, and outcomes' (Clark et al. 2020, 382), that span and connect with many different aspects of education, environment, and sustainability. This breadth of perspectives in ESE also relates to how 'evidence' may be engaged in ESE policy and research: from assumptions of the neutrality of evidence in science-based domains, to more critical orientations that assume a value orientation in what is provided as evidence and to how the evidence may be engaged in policy decision-making (Reed and Meagher 2019). ...
Full-text available
This paper looks beyond the environmental and sustainability education (ESE) field for ideas on understanding the research-policy relationship. It examines two specific bodies of literature that have analysed the interplay of research and policy in different ways – critical policy studies and evidence use studies. Bringing these two literatures into conversation, we draw out insights in relation to: what counts as evidence in policy decision-making, what influences policy processes beyond evidence, and what roles research can play in relation to policy making. We then consider how these issues from beyond the field might advance research and policy in ESE. We argue that ESE policy is distinctive in its scale, breadth and contestation, and that there is a need for more diverse work in relation to the ESE research-policy interface.
... This is possibly one of the most crucial and contested questions to be discussed (see e.g. Reed & Meagher, 2019). ...
Full-text available
This paper suggests that the field of environmental governance, policy and planning (EGPP) may be seen as an (emerging) scientific field, which can be characterised as ‘fragmented adhocracy’, explaining the widespread failure to produce robust and cumulative knowledge. We argue that in order to produce reliable knowledge and to become credible in the realm of policy and planning praxis, EGPP research needs a major reform impetus. To this end, we propose three areas for reform, which cover (1) an agreed canon of definitions shared within the community, while being open to reinterpretations and novel concepts; (2) the stronger use of meta-analytical methods such as the case survey methodology, or systematic reviews, to cumulate published case-based evidence; (3) a systematic recognition of the institutional, political and social context of governance interventions, which becomes increasingly important to the extent that meta-analyses reveal general patterns and trends which nonetheless vary with context. For each agenda item, we briefly formulate the motivating problem and an ideal-typical vision to strive for, and sketch out the pragmatic, epistemological and normative limits to its realisation. We close with overall reflections on our research reform agenda and suggest pathways for implementation.
Digital technologies have enhanced the capacity for organisations across many sectors to produce, publish, and disseminate research in a variety of formats, and a great deal of it is sought and used in public policy and practice‐related research, yet this diversity is often overlooked in studies of research use. While the need for diverse research sources and formats for public policy and practice is increasingly acknowledged, there have been few studies which articulate and categorise what this diversity looks like in practice, and how research is filtered and selected based on genre, source, and other facets. This article reports on a large‐scale online survey and semi‐structured interviews with research users across multiple sectors in Australia on the materials they access and use for policy and practice work. The results indicate that research users are active information seekers who require online access to diverse genres and formats produced by a range of sources and sectors. However, respondents also faced many barriers to research use, including the cost of subscriptions for academic journals, discoverability of reports and data, poor management of publications by organisations including government, and the time required for filtering and evaluation. Based on these findings I argue that policy research requires a far greater variety of genres and sources than is generally recognised with implications for the way research use and the research publishing system is understood and managed in Australia. Points for practitioners Policy research and implementation requires diverse online sources and resources from multiple sectors, including reports, discussion papers, evaluations, and data, produced by organisations (grey literature), as well as journals and books. However, this paper finds there are major barriers to discovery, filtering, and access to diverse research publications for practitioners, resulting in poor productivity and policy outcomes. To improve the use of evidence for policy and practice, we must invest in efficient discovery, access, and management systems for diverse research publications.
Full-text available
The world is facing unprecedented challenges on a scale that has never been seen before, and the need for evidence-informed solutions has never been greater. As a result, academics, policy-makers, practitioners, and research funders are increasingly seeking to undertake or support research that achieves tangible impacts on policy and practice. However, the impact of research is inherently subjective, with the same outcome perceived as either beneficial or negative by different groups, or by the same group in different contexts. It is therefore important to consider factors that may increase the likelihood that outcomes from research are perceived as beneficial (or otherwise) by interested/affected groups and non-academic partners, to help researchers avoid causing potentially harmful impacts, despite their best intentions. In this overview article, we discuss three considerations for re-thinking how research can deliver such outcomes: (i) sensitivity to context, (ii) representation and legitimisation of diverse voices and (iii) the management of power dynamics. We then discuss how these can be enacted in research and engagement processes that are designed to incorporate multiple ways of viewing reality and knowledge, as researchers become increasingly aware of their positionality, privilege, assumptions and biases. By considering how research and impact generation processes are mediated by context, power and voice, it may be possible to envision just transformations of knowledge systems that foreground the knowledge and needs of diverse groups, including those who have been historically marginalised, and without systematically recognising or privileging one group over another.
The Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW), established in 2011, develops and commissions research projects, analysis and synthesis that directly informs ongoing water policy and regulatory processes in Scotland. The Centre is an established and trusted knowledge broker, informing policy, agency and other relevant stakeholders of current understanding and future expected changes across the water sector. All activities are supported by academic excellence and expertise from Scotland’s universities, research institutes and other UK centres. The “here-and-now” delivery within CREW is built around keeping pace with developing and emerging policy challenges, drawing on experts within the water community to deliver timely outcomes. Projects are co-constructed with relevant policy stakeholders to ensure cross-organisational priorities are met.
Full-text available
Within the field of environmental and sustainability education (ESE), the interaction between ESE research and ESE policy has received limited attention. Beyond ESE, however, the research-policy relationship has become an increasing focus for theoretical inquiry, empirical investigation and practical development. Against this backdrop, this article introduces a Special Issue that brings together new work from both within and beyond ESE that has explored the research-policy interface in varied contexts and from diverse perspectives. As a collection, it serves to highlight empirical insights, theoretical ideas, conceptual resources, practical examples, and methodological approaches for understanding, navigating and developing research-policy relationships within and beyond ESE.
Full-text available
Background: The use of research in policy settings is complex, unpredictable and influenced by a range of poorly understood social factors. This makes it difficult to plan for, facilitate and evaluate policy impacts arising from research. Aims and objectives: 1. Propose and test tools for planning for and facilitating research impact, based on a new logic model combined with a novel approach to public/stakeholder analysis 2. Propose and test methods for establishing causal links between research and policy impacts 3. Use case study findings to provide new empirical insights into the social processes that mediate the generation of impact from research Methods: Social Network Analysis, qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews and analysis of secondary data were used in a case study of peatland climate change research in Scottish Government policy. Findings: Boundary organizations and centrally positioned, well-trusted individuals, were crucial to the development of a trusted body of research in which policy-makers were sufficiently confident as the basis for policy. Discussion and conclusions: The non-linear social dynamics that characterize science-policy networks can be understood and evaluated. By using the tools described in this paper, researchers and other stakeholders can better plan, facilitate and evaluate research impact.
Full-text available
Current European Union (EU) policies require policy-makers on different levels of government to engage with new forms of governance such as participatory planning, aiming to improve environmental policy delivery. We address the central issue of how policy-makers learn about the appropriateness of different modes of governance. By way of example, we examine recent innovations in EU water governance – primarily through the enactment of the Water Framework Directive (2000) and the Floods Directive (2007), and their requirements for stakeholder participation in the planning process. We discuss scope for policy-induced 'governance learning' , wherein policy-makers draw on evidence and experience to learn about how to design and execute effective participatory planning and decision-making. In doing so, we aim to extend work on policy learning by focusing on the procedural dimensions of governance, and make a case for more coordinated and systematic approaches to gathering evidence and learning from ongoing EU environmental policy implementation.
Full-text available
Contemporary markets and societal norms externalise many ecosystem services important for a sustainable future. A range of external legal, market, social protocol and other mechanisms, referred to as ‘societal levers’, constrain or otherwise influence the behaviour of resource managers, and the expectations and assumptions of the society within which they operate. These ‘societal levers’ have progressively institutionalised evolving societal values, influencing markets and other choices. We use the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) framework to explore case studies of societal transitions, analysing how emergent concerns become shared and ultimately transformed into ‘levers’, shifting societal norms. Emerging concerns become influential only when they are shared across societal sectors, and when broader implications are realised across multiple dimensions of the STEEP framework. We propose and advocate use of a ‘ripple effect’ of values as a means to direct and accelerate the pace at which environmental concerns shape mainstream societal norms and structures, and become institutionalised in the form of ‘societal levers’.
Full-text available
Environmental change requires adaptive responses that are innovative, forward-looking and anticipatory, in order to meet goals for sustainability in socio-ecological systems. This implies transformative shifts in understanding as conceptualised by the idea of ‘double’- or ‘triple-loop learning’. Achieving this can be difficult as communities often rely on shorter-term coping mechanisms that purport to maintain the status quo. The use of participatory scenario planning to stimulate forward-looking social learning for adaptation was investigated through three contrasting community case studies on natural resource management in Latin America (in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia). Exploratory scenario narratives that synthesised local knowledge and future perceptions were used iteratively to define response options considered robust across multiple futures. Despite its intensive format, participants in each case agreed that scenario planning enabled a more systematic appraisal of the future. Scenarios facilitated innovation by providing scope to propose new types of responses and associated actions. Differences in local context meant that learning about future change developed in diverse ways, showing a need for a reflexive process. Reframing of key issues characteristic of double-loop learning did occur, albeit through different forms of interaction in each location. However, a shift towards transformative actions characteristic of triple-loop learning was less evident. Achieving this would appear to require ongoing use of scenarios to challenge social norms in light of changing drivers. Use of learning loops as a diagnostic to evaluate adaptive responses provided a useful reference framework although in practice both innovation and consolidative approaches can develop concurrently for responses to different issues.
Full-text available
Background: The 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) generated a unique database of impact case studies, each describing a body of research and impact beyond academia. We sought to explore the nature and mechanism of impact in a sample of these. Methods: The study design was manual content analysis of a large sample of impact case studies (producing mainly quantitative data), plus in-depth interpretive analysis of a smaller sub-sample (for qualitative detail), thereby generating both breadth and depth. For all 162 impact case studies submitted to sub-panel A2 in REF2014, we extracted data on study design(s), stated impacts and audiences, mechanisms of impact, and efforts to achieve impact. We analysed four case studies (selected as exemplars of the range of approaches to impact) in depth, including contacting the authors for their narratives of impact efforts. Results: Most impact case studies described quantitative research (most commonly, trials) and depicted a direct, linear link between research and impact. Research was said to have influenced a guideline in 122 case studies, changed policy in 88, changed practice in 84, improved morbidity in 44 and reduced mortality in 25. Qualitative and participatory research designs were rare, and only one case study described a co-production model of impact. Eighty-two case studies described strong and ongoing linkages with policymakers, but only 38 described targeted knowledge translation activities. In 40 case studies, no active efforts to achieve impact were described. Models of good implementation practice were characterised by an ethical commitment by researchers, strong institutional support and a proactive, interdisciplinary approach to impact activities. Conclusion: REF2014 both inspired and documented significant efforts by UK researchers to achieve impact. But in contrast with the published evidence on research impact (which depicts much as occurring indirectly through non-linear mechanisms), this sub-panel seems to have captured mainly direct and relatively short-term impacts one step removed from patient outcomes. Limited impacts on morbidity and mortality, and researchers' relatively low emphasis on the processes and interactions through which indirect impacts may occur, are concerns. These findings have implications for multi-stakeholder research collaborations such as UK National Institute for Health Research Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, which are built on non-linear models of impact.
Full-text available
Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is an approach in which researchers and community stakeholders form equitable partnerships to tackle issues related to community health improvement and knowledge production. Our 2012 realist review of CBPR outcomes reported long-term effects that were touched upon but not fully explained in the retained literature. To further explore such effects, interviews were conducted with academic and community partners of partnerships retained in the review. Realist methodology was used to increase the understanding of what supports partnership synergy in successful long-term CBPR partnerships, and to further document how equitable partnerships can result in numerous benefits including the sustainability of relationships, research and solutions. Building on our previous realist review of CBPR, we contacted the authors of longitudinal studies of academic-community partnerships retained in the review. Twenty-four participants (community members and researchers) from 11 partnerships were interviewed. Realist logic of analysis was used, involving middle-range theory, context-mechanism-outcome configuration (CMOcs) and the concept of the 'ripple effect'. The analysis supports the central importance of developing and strengthening partnership synergy through trust. The ripple effect concept in conjunction with CMOcs showed that a sense of trust amongst CBPR members was a prominent mechanism leading to partnership sustainability. This in turn resulted in population-level outcomes including: (a) sustaining collaborative efforts toward health improvement; (b) generating spin-off projects; and (c) achieving systemic transformations. These results add to other studies on improving the science of CBPR in partnerships with a high level of power-sharing and co-governance. Our results suggest sustaining CBPR and achieving unanticipated benefits likely depend on trust-related mechanisms and a continuing commitment to power-sharing. These findings have implications for building successful CBPR partnerships to address challenging public health problems and the complex assessment of outcomes.
'Frank Geels's book gives us a new perspective on how society moves from one technological regime to another. Understanding these transitions is essential if we are to get to grips with what we need to do to switch our societies to more sustainable states and how technologies figure in that switch.' - Ken Green, Institute of Innovation Research, The University of Manchester, UK This important book addresses how long term and large scale shifts from one socio-technical system to another come about, using insights from evolutionary economics, sociology of technology and innovation studies. These major changes involve not just technological changes, but also changes in markets, regulation, culture, industrial networks and infrastructure.
Calls for new models of knowledge production demand more interdisciplinary research in order to: develop holistic solutions, increased stakeholder participation, to consider a plurality of perspectives, and to support a more deliberative democracy approach. However, knowledge production debates have rarely explored the synergies offered through combinations of different research attributes. We develop the concept of ‘participatory interdisciplinarity’ to explore the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders by groups of researchers from different disciplines. This paper examines the benefits and challenges of: interdisciplinarity, stakeholder participation, the integration of interdisciplinarity and participation. We conclude that participatory interdisciplinary approaches can quickly improve understanding and communication amongst both researchers and stakeholders involved in management, with less evidence of immediate instrumental benefits. We outline how ‘participatory interdisciplinarity’ can assist in breaking down barriers between traditional knowledge roles (researcher/stakeholder) and knowledge forms (academic/local) and in activating more integrated environmental management.
It has become part of the mantra of contemporary science policy that the resolution of besetting problems calls for the active engagement of a wide range of sciences. The paper reviews some of the key challenges for those striving for a more impactful social science by engaging strategically with natural scientists. It argues that effective engagement depends upon overcoming basic assumptions that have structured past interactions: particularly, the casting of social science in an end-of-pipe role in relation to scientific and technological developments. These structurings arise from epistemological assumptions about the underlying permanence of the natural world and the role of science in uncovering its fundamental order and properties. While the impermanence of the social world has always put the social sciences on shakier foundations, twenty-first century concerns about the instability of the natural world pose different epistemological assumptions that summon a more equal, immediate and intense interaction between field and intervention oriented social and natural scientists. The paper examines a major research programme that has exemplified these alternative epistemological assumptions. Drawing on a survey of researchers and other sources it seeks to draw out the lessons for social/natural science cross-disciplinary engagement.
This paper assesses developments in transdisciplinary research in the UK. While we support the thesis that transdisciplinarity is still not mainstream and is rarely supported per se by funders of research, this paper examines the extent to which UK research policy has embraced the concept of transdisciplinarity. Five empirical case studies provide data about the interrelationship between the interdisciplinary and impact or knowledge exchange aspirations of Research Council UK (RCUK) investments. We find evidence that, to an extent, UK research funding policy is achieving some elements of transdisciplinarity in practice, if not in name. Drawing on broader debates about the limitations of knowledge mobilisation and the challenges of conducting interdisciplinary research, we reflect on how the situation has changed since our original 2004 paper. The evidence suggests that the absence of the’transdisciplinary’ label is not necessarily impeding the framing of research funding schemes oriented towards societal issues. Nevertheless, several areas where capacity-building is required, including training for early career interdisciplinary researchers; improved research leadership skills; and the capacity to evaluate the quality of transdisciplinary processes and to learn from such evaluations, are identified.