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Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainable Development: The Role of Program Management - Summary of a Workshop
Many participants expressed their general agreement with the principles of linking knowledge with action that were offered as hypotheses (offering some objections and modifications as described later in this summary). Instead of focusing on whether the hypotheses hold true, program managers from the federal government tended to focus on why some techniques for linking knowledge with action can be more difficult to apply given institutional constraints of the federal government. More specifically, discussions consistently tended toward the nature of federal government programs and the institutional hurdles to innovation that program managers in such organizations face. This workshop summary is therefore divided into two sections. The first addresses the feature of effective knowledge-action systems that received the greatest attention in case studies and in the workshop discussion: the need for collaborative, ongoing user-driven dialogue, including the role of user-producer dialogues, the boundary organizations that facilitate such dialogues, and the importance of user-driven problem definition. The second section describes several barriers to linking knowledge with action in the federal government, such as structural barriers to collaboration; risk aversion and barriers to collaboration as reflected in evaluation systems; a funding environment that can stifle innovation; human resource constraints; and political uncertainty. The insights lay an important foundation for future work identifying opportunities—ways to work effectively given existing barriers or ways to overcome barriers. In addition, it is important to note that although many of the barriers discussed are unique to the federal government, others are not. Many participants emphasized the need to conduct similar discussions among program managers in other sectors, including nongovernmental organizations, other branches of government, and especially the private sector. Several participants pointed to the need for follow-on activities that would include program managers, users, and producers from the above-mentioned sectors in order to learn from their different but related experiences. Although this workshop focused primarily on the federal government context, the interdependence of the public sector, civil society, and the private sector in linking knowledge with action for sustainable development was widely acknowledged.
It should also be noted that because this report is a workshop summary, its contents are limited in scope to the discussions that took place during the workshop and written material that was submitted by participants in case summaries. In the interest of promoting candid discussions, the workshop was held with the understanding that comments from the discussions would not receive individual attribution in this summary. Therefore, comments in this summary, whether taken from the workshop discussions or the case summaries, are not given attribution. As a record of those discussions, the report includes opinions from individuals and groups who attended the workshop. However, the opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of all workshop participants, their affiliated organizations, or the National Academies. The report does not contain consensus findings or recommendations from the workshop participants as a whole.