June 9, 2011

2) Science-practice and science-policy boundaries

Image source: Alice Rose Bell, 2010.

My first few posts have been focused on science for decision-making and innovation. This next section will highlight the role of mediators between the spheres of science and policy, or what STS scholars refer to as “boundary organizations.” Like my first post, this will be a brief review of the literature, and in later posts I’ll look at specific examples of boundary organizations at work.

The concept of “boundary organizations” is extremely relevant to- you guessed it- agriculture extension work! The traditional model of extension, of course, is the top-down, “loading dock,” basic-to-applied research model. But complex problems like climate change pose new challenges for scientists, farmers, and extension educators. This is why some scholars are working to reshape this model. Extension is a mediator between science, policy, and stakeholders. It is not simply a provider of information, but rather a decision support system. Incorporating feedback from farmers and other stakeholders is important to the mission of university extension programs, and critical for addressing global challenges of the 21st century.

David H. Guston, William Clark, Terry Keating, David Cash, Susanne Moser, Clark Miller, Charles Powers. (2000). “Report of the Workshop on Boundary Organizations in Environmental Policy and Science.” Global Environmental Assessment Project. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/gea/pubs/huru1.pdf
  • In 2001, the journal Science, Technology, & Human Values ran a special issue on so-called “boundary organizations” (see end of this blog for full references). Dave Guston is renowned scholar of political science and science policy theory. His idea of boundary organizations is that the realms of science and policy are not entirely separate; there are actors who span and negotiate between the two. This report contains a summary of all of the articles published in that journal. Many of the examples of “boundary spanners” deal with issues related to agriculture and climate change. David Cash shows extension’s role in negotiating water use in the U.S. High Plains states. He discusses the history of extension and multiple scales of the science/policy interface in this case. Clark Miller studies the politics of climate science. In this paper he argues that the international “climate regime” doesn’t fit neatly into the boundary organization model, and instead he proposes the term “hybrid management” for the function of organizations like the IPCC.

Cash, D.W. et al. (2003). “Knowledge systems for sustainable development.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/100/14/8086.full.pdf+html

  • This article ties together some of the theoretical concepts on boundary organizations presented by Guston and others with a set of case studies of global environmental development. The authors represent both STS and “sustainability science” scholars, led by W.C. Clark. It also discusses science policy communication, in which they identify salience, legitimacy, and credibility as the main themes in providing useful information.

Cash, D.W., Borck, J.C., & Pratt, A.G. (2006). “Countering the Loading-Dock Approach to Linking Science and Decision Making.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, 31, p. 465-494. http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5100/Cashetal2006.pdf

  • David Cash has another great example of boundary organizations and how they work. He proposes four mechanisms for them to work: convening (bringing people together), translation (communicating between different audiences, for example, science and the public), collaboration (working on a project with multiple interests represented), and mediation (finding mutual ground in conflicts). The “loading-dock approach” is a poor model of communication: it involves just getting the data out there, but not doing any follow up or getting any feedback. Cash et al. use the case study of communicating climate forecasts to show how participation from stakeholders is crucial to the 2-way communication between science and decision-makers. This is sometimes referred to as the “co-production” of knowledge (although other STS scholars use to work co-production in a different way, meaning the co-evolution of scientific knowledge and social systems/order).

Breuer, Norman, Clyde Fraisse, and Peter Hildebrand (2009). “Molding the pipeline into loop.” Journal of Service Climatology.


  • Our friends down south are blazing the path for extension’s role in helping farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change. This particular article describes how they used participatory dialogue with farmers and extension educators to create a website to provide information about regional crop outlooks based on climate forecasts. They call this a decision support system. For more information, see their 2010 report here. And for more comments on why agricultural extension needs to move beyond the linear model, read John Gerber's 1994 article here.

[Full articles from the STHV 2001 issue that have free access:]

Guston, David (2001). “Boundary Organizations in Environmental Policy and Science: An Introduction.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 26. http://www.cspo.org/_old_ourlibrary/documents/boundaryorgs.pdf

Cash, David W. (2001). “‘In Order to Aid in Diffusing Useful and Practical Information’: Agricultural Extension and Boundary Organizations.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 26. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/In%20order%20to%20aid%20in%20diffusing%20useful%20and%20practical%20information%202000-10.pdf
Miller, Clark (2001). “Hybrid Management: Boundary Organizations, Science Policy, and Environmental Governance in the Climate Regime.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 26. http://www.cspo.org/_old_ourlibrary/documents/hybrid_management.pdf

I hope this blog post on boundary organizations was useful to you! If you have any questions, recommendations, or if something from the articles is not clear, please leave me a comment!

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