Wednesday, 21 February 2007

AAAS Day 4: KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

BY JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member
AAAS Day 4: Sunday 18 Feb 2007


Issues of related to the credibility, salience and legitimacy of knowledge were also explored in a session on “Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development: Mobilizing Research and Development for Decision-Making.” This was reporting the results of an international project led by Bill Clark and Nancy Dickson at Harvard and Pamela Matson at Stanford and explored the question: “What makes some knowledge systems more effective than others in harnessing science and technology with the goals of sustainable development?”
The session involved some of the same presenters as the earlier one on Global Challenges (including Clark and Matson), but also included Gilberto Gallopin from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile, and Louis Lebel from Chiang Mai University, Thailand.

Presentations included:
· Bill Clark, Linking Knowledge to Action for Sustainability
· Gilberto Gallopin, Knowledge for Sustainable Development: The Challenge of Multiple Epistemologies
· Louis Lebel, Governing Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development
· Pamela Matson, Research Actors in Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development: Perspectives from the Inside

This team undertook research to understand “systems networks” of people, organisations and resources involved in mobilising R&D in five cases – water management, short-term climate forecasts, fisheries, agriculture and health. In each case, they viewed “knowledge systems” as consisting of a network of linked actors, organisations and objects that perform a number of knowledge-related functions that link knowledge and “know-how” with actions. Included are the incentives, financial resources, institutional arrangements and human capital that give such systems capacity to do their work, and the intention to focus such work in some arenas rather than others.

Overall, the presenters discussed how generalisable findings about knowledge systems might be, beginning with the premise that usable knowledge is ultimately “contextualised” (i.e., adapted to specific circumstances of place). The question remains, what, if any, generalisations about “what works” in the design of effective knowledge systems can be carried over from place to place or sector to sector? This resonates well with the thinking the STEPS Centre is developing in its Designs theme.

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