Boundary spanning for sustainability

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5 June 2018

‘Boundary spanning’ can generate a more effective relationship between science and policy in tackling sustainability challenges. This is the message from experts including the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s Carina Wyborn and Melanie Ryan who share their experience in a paper published in Sustainability Science.

Cultivating more dynamic links between science and policy is essential for responding to complex sustainability challenges. One approach is to ‘span the boundaries’ between science and decision making to create greater, more effective knowledge exchange.

The authors describe boundary spanning as work that enables exchange between the production and use of knowledge to support evidence-informed decision making. Boundary spanners are individuals or organisations that facilitate this process.

There are many activities that contribute to boundary spanning. These include convening dialogues between scientists and decision makers; producing summaries of scientific papers for policymakers; working with ‘knowledge brokers’ to promote understanding of the different perspectives of scientists and decision makers; capacity building to understand policy processes or scientific research; and scanning policy ‘horizons’ to track emerging science needs in decision making.

The authors believe boundary spanning has the potential to increase the efficiency in which useful research is produced, boost capacity to absorb new evidence and perspectives into sustainability decision making, improve the relevance of research and open new policy opportunities.

As an example of boundary spanning, the Luc Hoffmann Institute recently worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to design a science-policy dialogue on the impact of synthetic biology on conservation. This brought together representatives from NGOs, the private sector and public agencies to develop an easily understandable but technically robust global assessment that will underpin a global policy recommendation for IUCN’s members, both state agencies and NGOs, to vote on in 2020. This topic is both contested and technically complex and the the relationship between science and policy has to be carefully navigated.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute team work with actors and stakeholders on a range of science-policy issues, developing and mapping pathways to achieve policy impact. They are also brokering new relationships around topical challenges to increase awareness, knowledge exchange and develop shared action plans for conservation.

By sharing their experience and examples, the authors hope to encourage a more robust discussion of how to achieve evidence-informed decision making for sustainability.

Read the paper here.

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