National Research Council


National Research Council, 2006. Linking knowledge with action for sustainable development: the role of program management – summary of a workshop. National Academies Press. 134 pgs. DOI: 10.1146/


It is now commonplace to assert that actions toward sustainable development require a mix of scientific, economic, social and political knowledge, and judgments. The role of research-based knowledge in this complex setting is ambiguous and diverse, and it is undergoing rapid change both in theory and in practice. We review conventional views of the linkages between research-based knowledge and action, and the early response to concerns that these links could and should be improved, through efforts at translation and transfer. We then examine the range of critiques that challenge those conventional views by highlighting different aspects of the relationships between science and society, focusing on the implications for action toward sustainable development. We then review the theories and strategies that have emerged in the attempt to improve the linkages between research-based knowledge and action in the context of sustainability across four broad categories: participation, integration, learning, and negotiation. These form a hierarchy with respect to how deeply they engage with the various critiques. We propose that the relationships between research-based knowledge and action can be better understood as arenas of shared responsibility, embedded within larger systems of power and knowledge that evolve and change over time. The unique contribution of research-based knowledge needs to be understood in relation to actual or potential contributions from other forms of knowledge. We conclude with questions that may offer useful orientation to assessing or designing research-action arenas for sustainable development.