sustainability. As a result, we know much less than we could about which kinds of knowledge systems work (and which do not) under what conditions. Myths accumulate and blunders are repeated. There is both a great need and a great deal of enthusiasm for systematically and critically comparing experience with knowledge systems across a wide range of sectors and regions.
Previous studies of international agricultural research, health research, and environmental research systems (e.g., Ruttan et al., 1994) have identified two general features of S&T systems that are able to link knowledge and action successfully: (1) organizational and institutional linkages between the suppliers of knowledge and their users (i.e., bridging institutions) and (2) recognition that location-specific needs must be taken into account when developing usable knowledge. Although this earlier work has provided important insights into what makes some S&T systems successful in linking knowledge and action, it only considered a few areas of research and did not focus on the barriers that prevent success.
Members of the National Academies’ Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability discussed the shortfall of research on linking knowledge with action for sustainable development as described above. Members of the roundtable affirmed that a more comprehensive and systematic examination of systems that link knowledge with action for sustainable development could provide important lessons that might lead to improved development and implementation of such systems in the future, resulting in important contributions to sustainable development. The roundtable therefore selected “Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development” as its first focal area. Under this initiative, the roundtable has undertaken a series of activities related to linking knowledge with action, with the goal of identifying what works and why, including lessons or techniques for linking knowledge with action, barriers to effective linkage, and areas in which further research is needed.
One of the key lessons learned at previous workshops related to linking knowledge with action for sustainable development was that strong leadership at the program management level is a common feature of most successful efforts to link knowledge with action. The workshop summarized here was therefore designed to explore more thoroughly the roles and experiences of program managers in linking knowledge with action. Task force members identified potential case studies and program managers through an informal nomination process making use of their own experiences and networks. The list of candidates that emerged from this process was evaluated by the task force with a view toward inviting to the workshop a diverse group of cases and managers spanning a wide range of topical and institutional settings. Program managers were selected largely from the federal government and in many cases were responsible for managing research programs within or funded by their institutions. However, the subject matter of their programs varied widely, including technology, health, the environment, and engineering. In addition to these managers, workshop participants included task force members, several of whom held or had held leadership positions in the federal government. For workshop participants, among the benefits of the workshop was the opportunity to meet program managers working on very different projects and share valuable insights on how to make their programs more successful.