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Cash, David W., William Clark, Frank Alcock, Nancy M. Dickson, Noelle Eckley, and Jill Jaeger. Under review. "Salience, Credibility, Legitimacy and Boundaries: Linking Research, Assessment and Decision Making." Policy Sciences.


Effectively linking knowledge and action to meet the needs of human development while protecting fundamental biophysical systems has proven difficult. This difficulty in linking knowledge and action, even when there is political commitment to sustainable development, has been attributed to, among other factors, barriers or gaps in knowledge-action systems. Such impediments can result in the archetypal problems of decision makers not getting information that they need and scientists producing information that is not used.

The challenges associated with barriers or gaps has led to a growing body of work that analyzes boundaries in knowledge-action systems. Such boundaries demarcate the socially constructed and negotiated borders between science and policy, between disciplines, across nations, and across multiple levels. They serve important functions (e.g., protecting science from the biasing influence of politics, or helping organize and allocate authority), but they can also act as barriers to communication, collaboration, and integrated assessment and action. Managing such boundaries seems to be a fundamental element in effectively linking knowledge to action.

As important as managing boundaries is, it is only one piece of the puzzle of effectively linking knowledge and action -- a piece that is interconnected with the challenges of creating salient, credible, and legitimate information. Traditionally, scientists, managers and scholars of science, technology and policy have focused on credibility -- how to create authoritative, believable, and trusted information. For example, the creation of such bodies as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave priority to organizational structures to assure credibility of the information being produced -- peer review, rigorous vetting of participants, etc. Recent research and practice, however, point to the danger of overestimating the importance of credibility alone, while undervaluing two other attributes of science and technology systems: salience, or relevance to decision making; and legitimacy, or fairness to a variety of actors . Although it created structures to promote credibility, the IPCC in its early stages focused too little on legitimacy, and developing country participants began to question the lack of third world scientists and perspectives in the assessment process.

Given the challenge of creating salient, credible, and legitimate information in a world of boundaries, the central institutional question that drives the research presented in this paper is: What are the kinds of organizational structures and strategies that effectively help manage boundaries to link salient, credible and legitimate science and technology to decision making for sustainable development?

To answer this question, the paper will first present an emerging framework for thinking about boundaries and salience, credibility, and legitimacy. It will then describe our empirical findings and present implications and conclusions for organizations engaged in producing and using knowledge for sustainable development.


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