Chapter Overview

This chapter aims to describe what linking knowledge to action is, key qualifications associated with created knowledge and how action can be ensured during, and at the end of the overall stakeholder collaborative process. It also describes how stakeholders can guarantee a successful collaborative process and in what ways it is applicable to sustainability. Barriers of linking knowledge to action are also presented in this chapter along with a specific example regarding water sustainability research between decision makers and scientists.


In the simplest of terms, linking knowledge to action is the transfer of research findings into practice. This process can be broken down into two concepts: knowledge creation and action achievement. Knowledge can be described as facts, information, and skills that one can gain through countless avenues of experience such as education, research, their ancestors, art, sensory knowledge and many more. Action can be described as the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve a goal, aim or achieve innovation. Specifically, when evidence-based knowledge is created, it can become conceptualized in a way that guides the organization and interpretation of information that eventually leads to action. Action can look differently with each project or initiative and vary place to place. Various types of action reach all avenues of sustainability and range from social, economic and environmental innovation or change. Some examples of action are education or outreach efforts, newly established groups, renovation or re- purpose, budget reallocations, conservation, programming, new regulation, policy or law and much more. Knowledge to action falls under the third phase of transdisciplinary research however, specific efforts and focusing on the desired outcome of the project can be applied throughout each of the three phases to ensure it is achieved at the end. To bring together the two concepts of knowledge creation and action achievement in the transdisciplinary research process, it is important that the knowledge co-produced throughout Phase A, B, and C result in something useful once the project is complete.

Key Qualifications

In order for knowledge created by a group of people, academic and non-academic to be accepted, it is crucial for that information to uphold three major qualifications: saliency, credibility and legitimacy. If created knowledge were unable to uphold these three attributes, it would be difficult for knowledge to be accepted as trusted, usable information. It would also be difficult for research or knowledge creation to be replicated and be unable to contribute to the overall goal of creating action.

Salient: Saliency can be described as information. In order for stakeholders to distinguish created knowledge as salient, it must be considered significant and notable. The level of saliency is determined based on the perspectives of stakeholders.

Credible: Credibility can be defined as information that is believed or convincing. Before distinguishing whether information is credible, they must establish a specific criteria in order to determine the authenticity of the knowledge that was created. What types of knowledge do stakeholders value? What types of knowledge to stakeholders create? Would this knowledge lead to the perception of credibility? After these questions are considered and criteria is established, stakeholders can decide whether the information they are reviewing is authentic and perceived to be accurate.

Legitimate: Lastly, legitimacy can be described as fair information. Stakeholders must decide whether or not created knowledge is honorable, unbiased and respectful to all involved stakeholders. In order to do so, trust must be established among each member. The stakeholders in charge of producing the knowledge and information must remain neutral and impartial.

How to Support and Ensure Action Throughout

Throughout any sustainability science project, mutual collaboration is a vital key to the success and overall, newly created knowledge and action. Sustainability science projects are most often very complex and require a great deal of systems thinking. With so many moving parts, it is important each stakeholder involved in a project participate and do their part while remaining focused on the overall theme of creating usable knowledge to sustain action and change. For each main phase of the collaboration process within the overall umbrella of transdisciplinary research, specific actions can be applied to help support solution- oriented thinking to ensure actions happens at the end of the entire process.

Phase A

Phase one of any sustainability science project includes building a collaborative research team, identifying and describing a research problem and setting an agreed upon research objective. In order to ensure action is one of the main objectives of the overall research process, it is important to design the project framework to emphasize knowledge integration into the real-world and visualize an end goal or outcome that could realistically emerge from collaborative efforts. By focusing on the overall goal of applicable knowledge and an achievable end goal, action will be able to stem from the newly created information.

Phase B

Phase two of the collaborative process includes the co-creation and solution-oriented knowledge collection through collaborative research. This phase consists of the actual action of conducting the research, adopting methods and further establishing how to conduct research and analyze findings. This phase is the time in which project members are actively working towards the goal of collecting and arranging the information in preparation of turning findings into useable knowledge. Focusing on the goal and possible outcomes of the project throughout the process is an important tool to help remain goal-oriented and act as a reminder for what action the stakeholders hope to see in the end whether it be a new regulation, policy or law, education effort, renovation, budget reallocation or economic incentive, etc. .

Phase C

Phase three of the collaborative process is the implementation of research results. This phase is inherently involved with action as the first two phases have led up to this final step which is mainly focused on implementation of information into the real world. To ensure action is generated from this phase, it is important to make sure results are salient, credible and legitimate. It is also important for the co-produced knowledge to be evidence-based and formulated in a way that can lead to a natural conceptualization and organization of information that can be converted into action. By ensuring results upholds these qualifications, it allows for information to be accepted by knowledge users and applied to create change.

Kinds of knowledge that are potentially useful in pursuits of Sustainability

Understanding what types of knowledge are useful is very important when linking knowledge to action in the pursuit of sustainability. Generally, a broad understanding of sustainability science and the many complex natural systems that exist, as we have discussed in previous chapters, is considered pertinent knowledge for sustainability science. Because sustainability is considered a “place based” science, an important aspect of turning knowledge into action is ensuring theknowledge being used is specific to the sustainability challenge at hand and it’s location. Another piece of knowledge that is valuable in turning knowledge to action is knowledge of the technologies and policies that can have effect on the complex natural systems that are so vital to sustainability science. Knowledge relating to conducting the monitoring, research, and innovation that produces such usable knowledge is also important.

Who Uses knowledge for Sustainable development

There is a broad spectrum of people who consume or use knowledge for sustainable development and sustainability science. Decision makers at all levels–households, corporations, university’s, and government–are important users of knowledge. An example of government using knowledge would be coastal municipal governments using data created by scientists to estimate where they are going to be most affected by sea level rise.

Opinion leaders, educators, and artists are also all important consumers of knowledge as they are the ones who shape the way the public views sustainability science as a whole. Artist Eve Mosher’s recent project, “Seeding the City”, involved placing four foot trays of growing native plants on one thousand Brooklyn and Manhattan rooftops. The concept behind the project is that plants consume carbon dioxide, and help to produce a cleaner and cooler environment. While she knew that one thousand plant trays would not totally alter New York City’s climate, she wanted her art to get people engaged and show how the urban environment could be changed. She used knowledge created by scientists regarding what type of plants were native to the climate, and used that knowledge to inspire action in others.

It is also important to recognize that knowledge producers and users are occasionally the same people.

Barriers to Linking Knowledge to Action

When linking knowledge to action, challenges occasionally arise. As we learned in chapter 5, the co-production of knowledge involves various groups of people with different beliefs, ideas, and values. This can make it difficult to utilize the knowledge that has been produced to come up with one solution everyone involved agrees upon. This barrier is most frequently experienced in sustainability projects.

Another common barrier when linking knowledge to action is adapting to sustainability and accepting that there are many unknowns in the field. When it comes to working with unknown areas of science, failure is to be expected. In order to become adaptive, it is important for those tackling sustainability challenges to embrace failure and use past mistakes as learning tools for future experiences. This tends to be a challenge when it comes to linking knowledge to action in sustainability because often researchers, scientists, and organizations do not want to admit to prior inaccuracies or mistakes. Additionally, sustainability is a relatively new concept and the forums for learning are somewhat limited. Because of this, it is vital that those involved in the sustainability field must focus on sharing all sustainability experiences whether they succeed or fail.

When linking knowledge to action, another barrier that may arise is producers and users of knowledge having different beliefs as to what problems are most important, and/or how to go about solving them. For example, scientists, researchers, and engineers are going to have different notions then those of practitioners and decision makers. For this barrier to be resolved all key players must come together to identify all needs, and design all possible options for meeting those needs. Doing this builds trust among the group which is vital in the collaborative process and in linking knowledge to action.

A third barrier linking knowledge to action is the breaking up of knowledge to production. Making individual discoveries and inventing new ideas based off of user needs is only on part of a much more complex system of innovation. Combining knowledge is a common struggle among sustainable development and sustainability science as a whole. This can be a struggle because some participating group or individual may believe their knowledge is more valuable than others. A way people avoid the breaking up of knowledge is by beginning the process backwards, by discovering what knowledge is needed in relevant ways to stakeholders. By starting the process backwards, they can first identify a solution to the problem and then figure out what fields of knowledge must be incorporated to come up with a solution. This then helps lead to the integration of knowledge because everyone must work together to achieve a final goal.

Example of linking Knowledge to Action

Informing Priorities for Water Sustainability Research through Dialogues between Decision Makers and Scientists

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. SAHRA, is a NSF institution in Arizona who strive to promote sustainable management of water resources by conducting water resources-related science, outreach, and education in the context of critical water issues in the region. They wanted to learn information about the state of the regions water resources and connect the information with stakeholders. They asked three main scientific questions that they wanted to base their research off of.

What are the impacts of vegetation change on basin scale water balances? What are the costs and benefits of riparian preservation/restoration? What kinds of water markets and banking are feasible?

While these are good scientific questions focusing on watersheds, no water managers were consulted when they were coming up with them. This is an issue because SAHRA did not include one of the most important stakeholders who probably had the most real life experiential knowledge of these watersheds.

In efforts to strengthen their collaborative process, they developed a stakeholder engagement plan, established criteria for prioritization of research and application activities, improved internal coordination, identified specific audiences, and involved boundary spanners who could connect science to users. SAHRA developed outreach activities such as a bimonthly newsletter that reached more than 2100 people, gave 51 presentations in 2007, and sponsored 7 regional, national, and international workshops. All of these efforts to engage stakeholders further and spread awareness about water resources in the region.

Chapter Summary

Overall, there are many ways to ensure usable knowledge is created and accurately presented from the success of a collaboration effort. By establishing this from the start and upholding a goal-oriented state of mind during each phase in the collaboration process, action at the end can be applied. Ensuring trust among stakeholders and making sure the newly created knowledge upholds the three main qualifications of saliency, credibility and legitimacy makes it easier and much more possible for information to be relayed from knowledge producers to knowledge users. Despite barriers associated with linking knowledge to action, it is still very possible to facilitate action and meaningful change by incorporating conditions into the process such as being respectful of all stakeholders, building trust, sharing victory and defeat and much more.


Comprehension Questions

1. Why is trusted knowledge important when considering ways to incorporate knowledge into action?

2. How is having different beliefs, backgrounds and values between knowledge producers and knowledge users considered a barrier to linking knowledge to action? Can you think of a way to combat this?

3. Describe someone who could be considered a user of knowledge?

4. How does saliency effect action? Is it important for knowledge to be salient? Can you think of a real-world example of the best way to bring in salient knowledge to a sustainability project?



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