Communication in the form of ongoing dialogues is needed among producers, users, and program managers. In the absence of such dialogues, suggested one participant, “the S&T community often persists in offering its newest nanoswitches, while decision makers keep asking for old-fashioned hammers, and no one figures out that superglue would do the job at hand better than anything else.” Setting up and maintaining effective user-producer dialogues along the whole “supply chain” from basic research through decision making can impose strains on both scientists and decision makers. One participant explained that carrying out those dialogues in science-based organizations often leads to perceived capture of the dialogue by science, leading to the pitfall of science-push solutions that are irrelevant to action. On the other hand, carrying them out in operational or political contexts often leads to the perceived capture of the dialogue by politics, leading to the pitfall of politics-pulled solutions that are disowned by science. This leads to the important role of program managers and the boundary organizations within which they operate in promoting effective dialogues between knowledge producers and users.
Program managers and boundary organizations that successfully link knowledge with action tend to bridge both the barriers that separate disciplines and those that separate knowledge production and application. Many of the program managers at the workshop either work for a boundary organization or work to strengthen systems for linking knowledge with action that involve other boundary organizations. A few brief descriptions of some of those organizations are included in Box 2-1 as examples. More detailed descriptions of the programs represented at the workshop and how many of them serve as boundary organizations are included in the case summaries in Appendix A.
The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment: State of the Nation’s Ecosystems Project
The Heinz Center’s State of the Nation’s Ecosystems project was designed to develop and report on an agreed-upon suite of indicators describing the key characteristics of the United States’ ecosystems. Reporting on the state of the nation’s ecosystems requires communicating complex information in a manner that is accessible to nonspecialists while maintaining the scientific integrity of the information. For this and other reasons, the Heinz Center used a process involving participants from business, environmental advocacy organizations, academic institutions, and federal, state, and local governments. These groups served on design committees and working groups that were structured to ensure strong links and open dialogue among the members. Examples of areas in which the report was shaped by the different viewpoints of these communities are the number of indicators and the tone, technical content, and amount of supporting information provided in the report, and the degree to which the report was dominated by indicators that are already well known by the public or included those that are seen as important by the ecological community but are not well known by nonspecialists.
The Heinz Center program served as a forum for direct dialogue, bringing users and producers together to jointly design and implement the project.