Innovative Session VII

Thursday, 9 September 2021
10:30 – 12:00 CEST

Knowledge Cumulation in ESG Research

Jens Newig, Institute of Sustainability Governance, Leuphana University, Germany
Michael Rose, Institute of Sustainability Governance, Leuphana University, Germany

Karin Ingold: Institute of Political Science and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Switzerland
Zühre Aksoy: Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey
Benjamin Hofmann: Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
Machteld Simoens: University of Freiburg, Germany; Sina Leipold: Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research, Germany
Nicolas Jager: University of Oldenburg, Germany
Driess Hegger: Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Research in environmental governance, and in particular within the earth system governance (ESG) community, aspires to be both scientifically sound and policy-relevant. For scientific relevance and progress, knowledge needs to cumulate, and arguably, this also facilitates its societal relevance. Indeed, if academic research is to inform policy on “what works”, it has to deliver trusted evidence. Hence, the current ESG Science and Implementation Plan states that ESG research aims “to provide evidence for robust decision-making” (p. 88). But does it?
A debate appears to be emerging on the ways in which environmental governance research cumulates to actually provide such robust, policy-relevant evidence. In a recent opinion piece, Newig and Rose (2020) have made the case that environmental governance research, by and large, is not overly good at producing cumulative knowledge. They argue that the topics, approaches, concepts, terms, geographies, research questions and methods of environmental governance research are so diverse that research often occurs in parallel universes, with a bulk of publications speaking past each other. Instead, in order to mature and become a research community that is also recognised by policy-making, greater collaboration on shared research agendas will be essential. Such collaboration needs commonly shared goals, methods, theoretical approaches, frameworks of variables, datasets, and so on. At the same time, the diversity of research strands, epistemologies and researchers within the ESG community is one of its major assets.

This innovative session seeks to bring together researchers from the ESG community that share a common interest in the debate on knowledge cumulation, its prospects, opportunities, current diagnoses, limits and pitfalls, as well as in building institutions that facilitate a more “cumulative research culture” without compromising epistemic diversity. While this session is linked to an initiative to start an ESG Task Force on Knowledge Cumulation, everyone is invited to participate regardless of their interest in taking part in such an initiative.

In the first part of this session, we will have seven short (5–7 mins) impulse presentations:

Jens Newig and Michael Rose: Setting the scene: How do we recognize ‘knowledge cumulation’ in ESG research when it walks up to us on the street?
Karin Ingold: Policy makers’ perspectives on knowledge cumulation as evidence production
Zühre Aksoy: Rethinking Environmental Policy and Traditional Knowledge
Benjamin Hofmann: Barriers to a transformative impact of cumulative knowledge: Insights from pesticide research and governance
Sina Leipold and Machteld Simoens: Policy guidance in the face of conceptual ambiguity? The case of the circular economy in sustainability transitions
Nicolas Jager: Using case-based meta-analysis for knowledge cumulation
Driess Hegger: On the same page, but reading different books? The value of empirical analytical knowledge cumulation using meta frameworks.

In the second part of the session, we will draw on these inputs to jointly identify “hot topics” of knowledge cumulation that are either particularly disputed and/or relevant and urgent in the ESG community. Moreover, we will identify and prioritize suitable ESG topics and research questions on which knowledge should be cumulated for the sake of scientific progress and/or policy needs. Depending on the number of participants, we will discuss and document these topics in the plenum or in online breakout sessions, employing digital collaboration tools for identifying and ranking topics. The results will feed into the initial meeting of the Task Force initiative on Knowledge Cumulation on the taskforce meeting day on 10 September at 1.30 p.m. CET, also as a virtual event.