Presentation for the
SDRN/RICS Lectures on
Sustainable Development and the Quality of Life
William C. Clark, Harvard University
July 25, 2005
How can science and technology contribute
more effectively to achieving society’s goals
of sustainable development?
• Perspectives from an international dialog…
– What kind of knowledge is needed?
– What kinds of institutions can produce it?
– What should be the next steps?
Sustainable Development emerges
as a Global Challenge
• IUCN‟s World Conservation Strategy (1980)
• Brundtland Commission‟s Our Common Future (1987)
• UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992)
• Kofi Annan‟s Millennium Report to the UN GA (2000)
– “Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the
freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on
this planet” as the grand global challenges facing the
international community at the dawn of the 21st Century
Rapidly expanding post-Rio discourse on
how science can help meet the challenge
• S&T initiatives from South (from mid-90s)
– TWNSO, COMSATS, South Center, …
• Earth System Analysis : Integrating Science for
Sustainability (Schellnhuber & Wenzel, 1998)
• EU 5th Framework Programme (1998)
• Special Issue on “Sustainability Science” (1999)
International Journal of Sustainable Development
• Our common journey: a transition toward
sustainability (US NAS, 1999)
…continuing into the new Millennium
• World Academies of Science Conference
– TWAS, Africa, Brazil, UK, USA, others…
• Global Science Assessments
– IPCC, Millennium Ecosystem, ...
• International ICSU/Earth System Science Partnership studies
– Food Security, Carbon Management, Water, Health…
• Regional S&T for Sustainability workshops
– Friibergh, Abuja, Bonn, Chiang-Mai, Ottawa, Santiago, Trieste,
Cambridge, Dubai, Mexico City, Johannesburg Summit
• National and local roundtables / dialogues
– UK/SDRN, most of the civilized world, even US/NAS…
Reveal profound differences in
problems and perspectives…
old rich millions
Global resource surpluses
causes of climate change
theory driven research
poor, young billions
impacts of climate change
action driven research
But also broad agreement on the need for
more science dedicated to sustainability..
• What kind of science would „sustainability
• Consider analogies to other use-inspired
– Agricultural science?
– Health science?
– Military science?
Stokes‟ Quadrant Model of
Considerations of use?
Research No Yes
Exploratory Pure applied
No Probing/Poking research
Quest for (All) (Edison)
understanding Pure basic Use-inspired
research basic research
(redrawn from Stokes, 1997)
„Use-inspired‟ research for what purpose?
What‟s to be sustained? What‟s to be developed?
• Nature • People
– Earth, biodiversity, – Child survival, life
ecosystems expectancy, education,
• Life support
– Ecosystem services, • Economy
resources, environment – Wealth, productive sectors,
– Cultures, groups, places
– Institutions, social capital,
Sustainability Science for Whom?
• Sustainability science is about creating knowledge
that will change peoples‟ behaviours…
• Those people therefore become stakeholders in
• Relative to conventional science, sustainability
science therefore needs less emphasis on elite
researchers discovering answers for users…
• And more on empowering stakeholders to increase
their options, make informed choices among them
Science for stakeholders: The „ASB Matrix‟
How land use options perform against criteria
of different stakeholders in Sumatra
After CGIAR/ Tomich et al., 2001
What sources of
sustainability science knowledge?
• Conventional disciplinary research, applied
engineering and health sciences…
• But also learning-by-doing (participatory research /
• And various forms of „tacit‟ knowledge
– Of practice (eg. Running an oil refinery, farm)
– Embedded in technologies, institutions, culture
• The essence is integration of multiple forms of
knowing… But where to learn? Who to teach?
What core questions?
• Processes and causation
– Driving forces for sustainability transitions (eg.
Consumption, dematerialization, urbanization)
– Impact questions relating to vulnerability and resilience
of coupled human-environment systems
– Guidance questions relating to institutions and
incentives (perverse incentives, managing the
commons, effective assessments; value/behaviour gaps)
Core questions (cont.)
• Methods and models
– Connecting the ecological, economic, political
(eg. Valuing ecosystem services; greening
income accounts, participatory approaches)
– Integrative methods for place-based analysis
(eg. Tyndall „syndromes‟; landscape scale
models; cross-scale embedding)
– Complex adaptive systems (eg. Agent-based
approaches, facilitating social learning, etc.)
Core questions (concl.)
– Indicators and monitoring (sustainability indicators and
their scaling; monitoring methods for global public
– Case comparisons: generating comparable cases; role of
„success stories‟; meta-analysis
– Large data sets: generating and making usable for
stakeholders, eg. remote sensing, endemic biotic wealth
• And so on…
• What kind of knowledge is needed to
• What kinds of institutions can produce such
• What should be the next steps
The Institutional Challenge:
Closing the persistent gap between knowledge and action
• Dialogues reveal that a gap persists between what
decision makers, development workers want from
S&T and what S&T is producing for them;
Moreover, available knowledge is often not put to
use, resulting in loss of political support for research
• Egs: Persistence of morbidity due to indoor air pollution
from cook stoves, of high waste production rates from
• Need to understand why this gap persists and
what changes in institutions, procedures, and
program design can help to close it… from both sides
• Need institutional designs of „knowledge
systems‟ for sustainability
• There exist substantial bodies of work bearing on
the knowledge-action “gap”:
– R&D policy; Innovation systems
– Technology transfer
– Use of indigenous knowledge
• Lacking has been a system perspective spanning
R&D agenda setting through innovation and
application, including resource mobilization,
• Dialogue suggests which kinds of knowledge
systems might serve as models on which to build
institutional foundations for sustainability science
What kind of Systems?
Project management orientation
• Successful efforts to link knowledge and action
– generally adopt a “project” orientation (eg. “We need a widget of
<5kg for <$10…”)… rather than searching for general
– require dynamic leaders accountable for achieving such use-driven
goals and targets;
– avoid pitfall of letting “study of the problem” displace “creation of
solutions” as program goal.
– Egs. Disease campaigns, high yield crops, acoustic torpedoes…
• This finding tends to pose serious challenges for the
traditional homes of „curiosity driven basic research‟, eg.
academia, Research Councils, GPG parts of World Bank…
What kind of Systems?
End-to-end systems linking knowledge & action
• Successful projects, though anchored in use
(rather than general understanding), foster end-to-
end, integrated systems connecting use back to
basic scientific predictions or observations.
Need “supply chain” perspectives on the design
of decision support systems that assure no
missing or mismatched links, avoiding pernicious
„basic‟ vs. „applied‟ distinctions
• Eg: International Agricultural Research System
lessons in need to foster national research
capacity; not NASA…
What kind of systems?
Ones recognizing the value – and vulnerability – of
bridging or boundary-spanning organizations
• User-producer dialogues can be strained along the
supply chain from basic research to decision
• Dialogues within science-based organizations
often do not mesh with dialogues within operations
or policy contexts
Need for boundary-spanning organizations and
individuals to promote effective dialogues, with
recognition of their value and vulnerability
Eg: the best of the GCIAR system-wide programs;
the International Research Institute’s ENSO-apps
What kind of Systems?
Ones providing appropriate goals,
outcomes, targets, metrics
1. Successfully targeting and sustaining programs linking
knowledge to action for sustainability generally require a
clear and readily understood statement of the beneficial
outcomes that successful completion of the project would
2. Need a methodology that specifies goals, outcomes,
deliverables and metrics, while encouraging – rather than
suppressing -- the sort of innovative, experimental, high risk
work that is central to mobilizing S&T for sustainability.
3. Eg: Problems of US Federal Government GRPA and PART
Evaluations when applied to interagency progs.; Similar
difficulties in World Bank development programs; UK
Research Councils? Solved in Industry?
Do Exemplar Institutions for
Sustainability Science Exist?
• Best CGIAR system wide programs?
• UK‟s Tyndall Centre, Arizona State Univ.?
• International Institute for Applied Systems
Analysis (which the UK helped found, but
then dismissed – temporarily? – as too
much Pasteur and too little Bohr…)
• Need for comparative analysis and nurture
• Many, including much of what is going on
at SDRN, my own NAS Roundtable on
S&T for Sustainability…
• International Dialogue on Science and
Practice in Sustainable Development:
Linking Knowledge with Action (Chiang
Mai, January 2007)
• Suggestions from this group?
• International Dialogue on Science and Practice in
Sustainable Development: Linking Knowledge with
• International Initiative on Science and Technology for
• Science, Environment and Development Group (SED) at
• Me …