Sustainability Science Program

Comparative Eval of Institutions

Comparative Evaluation of Institutions for Linking Knowledge with Action

Throughout our studies of knowledge systems for sustainable development, we have periodically reached out to engage a broader community of scholars and practitioners in comparative evaluations of findings with a goal of advancing generalizations in the field.

Our initial efforts in this vein were carried out as part of a larger project seeking to flesh out the emerging field of sustainability science. A group of authors drawn from many of the projects summarized above pooled their experience across a half dozen cases. We synthesized a perspective on the challenges effective knowledge systems face, what those systems do, and how they are organized.

Building on these foundations, we launched the Sustainability Science and Technology Project, a multi-pronged effort to explore how different forms of partnerships and dialogues might better link sectors and regions in science-based, action-oriented initiatives to promote sustainability. The project included a set of focused partnership team efforts to link knowledge with action on the integrated management of production-consumption systems and enhancing resilience and reducing vulnerability of coupled human-environment systems. It evolved as a loosely collaborative set of explorations eventually involving Harvard University, TWAS – the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (Italy), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (USA), the National Academy of Sciences of the US, Chiang Mai Univ. (Thailand), Clark Univ. (USA), and the Sustainable Europe Research Institute (Austria).

The project on "Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development" was designed to test and deepen many of the insights that had emerged from our exploratory collaborations. In it, we asked: What are the characteristics of effective knowledge systems? How does the effectiveness of such systems depend on social and environmental contexts? How can knowledge systems be made more effective in specific circumstances? The project was a collaborative endeavor involving scholars from Harvard University, Chiang Mai University, Stanford University, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya). We developed a common research protocol and used it to evaluate proposed answers to the questions posed above across cases involving agriculture, agroforestry, aquaculture, livestock, water resources, disease management, and adaptation to climate variability. A synthesis of results is scheduled for publication as a special feature in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.