Sabine Reinecke (University of Freiburg)

This question puzzled and inspired Sabine to write a scientific article on “Knowledge brokerage designs and practices in four European climate services” that was published in “Environmental Science and Policy“ and recently awarded the INOGOV Best Paper Prize.

Although environmental policies broadly call for sound scientific evidence to inform decisions, the sheer complexity, uncertainty and diverging political stakes of issues like climate change adaptation or biodiversity loss often prevent science from taking on a more straightforward role as policy advisor or ‘instructor’. Where “both the nature of the ‘problem’ and the preferred ‘solution’ are strongly contested” (Head, 2008: 101), approaches to science policy interactions (SPI) are needed that go well beyond linear knowledge transfer. Such approaches should be more policy oriented and actively draw on the perspectives of stakeholders, who become the producers, not just receivers of actionable knowledge (Failing et al., 2007; Neßhöver et al., 2013). In the area of climate change, numerous ‘climate services’ have evolved at national, sub-national and even local levels, with the promise of being more decision-oriented. The paper scrutinizes whether and how four of these climate services in three European countries (the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland) live up to their proclaimed value of fostering more policy-oriented advice and could, hence, serve as role models for other fields, like biodiversity policy.

The German Climate Service Centre (CSC), the British UK Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP), the Scottish ClimateXChange (CXC) and the Swiss Forum for Climate and Global Change (ProClim-) were investigated regarding whether and how they institutionalize and enact knowledge brokerage in a credible, salient and legitimate way. Conceptually Knowledge brokerage (KB, Reinecke et al. 2013) refers to all sorts of different ‘intermediary activities’ between science and policy (Karner et al., 2011) covering both a more unidirectional notion of improving the uptake and ‘transfer’ of evidence in policy (Jäger, 2011) as well as that of facilitating, which is highly integrative and acknowledges different perspectives (Turnhout et al., 2013). In order to get hold of the empirically rich repertoire of practical approaches, a typology of six knowledge brokerage activities (KBA) was developed where each type can take fairly unidirectional or more interactive forms.

Knowledge Brokerage Activities (KBA):

1) Identify knowledge needs

2) Coordinate and network

3) Compile and translate

4) Build capacity

5) Analyse, evaluate & develop policy

6) Personal consultation


Despite differences in organization, topical focus, duration, mandate, funding or target groups, all four climate services show comparable profiles across these different knowledge brokerage activities. They all build and maintain formal or informal networks (of research) with stakeholders (KBA 2) which assures that exchange is physically possible. Beyond classical exchange forums (e.g. conferences) more integrative approaches include personal contacts or customized ‘matching’ activities. In all cases knowledge exchange is pursued by synthesizing and translating expertise into accessible formats (KBA 3) – though often from science to policy only. A stronger decision orientation can be assured by informing different KB services by users’ explicit knowledge needs – before knowledge is actually produced (KBA 1). In line with a self-conception as neutral ‘facilitators’ or ‘purveyors’, policy orientation is realized mainly by crafting policy options (KBA 5) and partly by providing operational decision support such as capacity building trainings or tools (KBA 4). Such decision support for enhancing capacities or learning (KB4) is, however, only provided by two of the Climate Services: UKCIP and CSC.

In practice, different Climate Services emphasize different KB activities: While decision-oriented capacity building (KBA 4) sits at the centre of UKCIP’s activities, CSC strongly pursues translation of expertise (KBA3). The orientation of ProClim- and CXC is two sided: first, coordinating research (KBA 2) and second, translating existing expertise into user benign formats (KBA 3 & 5).

Since the mere existence of a certain KB activity tells little about whether and how exactly the diverse perspectives of stakeholders are considered vis-à-vis scientific insights, the four cases were further evaluated regarding the saliency, credibility, legitimacy of KB practices (Cash et al., 2003). The results suggest that the meaning and weighting of these three attributes differed significantly across the cases, as did strategies and mechanisms employed for their achievement:

To sum up, legitimacy was often set aside or ‘uncovered’ on the ‘coat tails’ of saliency or credibility. In fact, with the exception of UKCIP, legitimacy was rarely addressed for the deliberate purpose of assuring procedural fairness. Stakeholders were involved only sporadically or at certain stages of knowledge production, e.g. at the end of the knowledge cascade on top of ‘value-free’ expertise, as in the case of CSC’s tools. For UKCIP’s tools or case studies, by contrast, practical expertise was often sufficient and actions could be triggered completely without science, as with its so called LCLIP tool. However, such integrative approaches are an exception rather than the rule.

For the sake of ensuring scientific credibility, KB activities of most of the climate services investigated are mainly oriented at ‘supplying’ pre-existing peer-reviewed knowledge or maximally ‘bridging’ the former with practitioners needs (Turnhout et al. 2013). By contrast, policy-oriented approaches that ‘facilitate’ decisions – and deliberately draw on practitioners’ perspectives – are far from routine. In fact, while increasing the saliency and especially the legitimacy of knowledge, stakeholder knowledge is rarely deemed acceptable (credible). That is why for instance the services of UKCIP were handed over to a more trusted ‘in house’ partner (Environment Agency), which would be able to deliver the preferred ‘measurable’ approaches. Although stakeholder-led processes offer a promising way of dealing with ‘the political’ side of decisions (Hoppe 2010, Wesselink and Hoppe, 2011) they often encounter strong resistance, especially by those in power in science and policy.

About the author

Sabine is a political scientist and sociologist by training. In November 2015 she finalized her PhD studies at the chair of Environmental Governance (Prof. Dr. Michael Pregernig) at the University of Freiburg (Germany) on novel climate governance approaches at the science-state-society nexus.

Original publication

Reinecke, Sabine (2015): Knowledge brokerage designs and practices in four European climate services: a role model for biodiversity policies? Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 54, 513–521. DOI:10.1016/j.envsci.2015.08.007.


Cash, D.W., Clark, W.C., Alcock, F., Dickson, N.M., Eckley, N., Gutson, D.H., Jäger, J., Mitchell, R.B., 2003. Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100(14), 8086-8091.

Failing, L., Gregory, R., Harstone, M., 2007. Integrating science and local knowledge in environmental risk management: A decision-focused approach. Ecol. Econ. 64(1), 47-60.

Head, B., 2008. Wicked problems in public policy. Public Policy 3(2), 101-118.

Hoppe, R., 2010. Lost in translation. Boundary work in making climate change governable, in: P. Driessen, P. Leroy, W. van Viersen (Eds.), From climate change to social change: Perspectives on science-policy interactions, Utrecht, International Books, 109-130.

Jäger, J., 2011. Risks and Opportunities for Sustainability Science in Europe, in: Jäger, J. et al. (Eds.), European Research on Sustainable Development, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, European Union, 187-203.

Karner, S., Rohracher, H., Bock, B., Hoekstra, F., Moschitz, H., 2011. Knowledge Brokerage in communities of practice: Synthesis report on literature review. FOODLINKS project.

Neßhöver, C., Timaeus, J., Wittmer, H., Krieg, A., Geamana, N., van den Hove, S., Young, J., Watt, M., 2013. Improving the science-policy interface of biodiversity research projects. Gaia 22(2), 99-103.

Reinecke, S., Bauer, A., Pregernig, M., Hermann, A.T., Pistorius, T., Hogl, K., 2013. Scientific climate policy advice: An overview of national forms of institutionalization. Discussion Paper 2-2013, Institute of Forest, Environmental, and Natural Resource Policy.

Turnhout, E., Stuiver, M., Klostermann, J., Harms, B., Leeuwis, C., 2013. New roles of science in society: Different repertoires of knowledge brokering. Sci. Public Policy 40 (3), 354-365.

Wesselink, A., Hoppe P., 2011. If Post-Normal Science is the Solution, What is the Problem? The Politics of Activist Environmental Science. Sci. Technol. Hum. Values 36(3), 389-412.

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