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Accelerating Actionable Sustainability Science: Science Funding, Co-Production, and the Evolving Social Contract for Science



Disruptions to our climate and other systems critical to sustaining life on Earth increasingly call for aggressive societal action. Science can help inform these actions, yet a gap between scientific knowledge production and use persists. Whereas science has traditionally separated itself from society, alternative models of producing science seek out inspiration from societal needs and interact with potential users during the research process. Previous studies indicate more engaged and collaborative approaches to producing science, or co-production, can generate more actionable scientific knowledge while also enabling more inclusive research cultures. Despite growing inclination across the science system to co-produce knowledge, it remains unclear how co-production will contribute at the speed and scale demanded by unfolding crises in climate and sustainability. For example, scaling up co-production must attend to its potentially high costs, navigate diverse inputs of expertise, perspectives and values, while at the same time demonstrating meaningful progress on solutions.

This dissertation contributes new, more extensive empirical data and analysis about the drivers and mechanisms of co-production to better understand how to accelerate the development of actionable sustainability science. Going beyond the existing case-specific literature, James investigates a large number of applied research projects and science funding programs to explore the role of public funding as a mechanism for changing the way science is produced and used.

About this dissertation

James Arnott was a PhD student at the University of Michigan and worked closely with the NERRS and the Science Collaborative throughout his graduate work. As part of his dissertation research, James examined 120 past research projects that were connected to the NERRS and interviewed 40 project participants. His work with Maria Lemos to Understand the Drivers of Usability has been providing key insights for the Science Collaborative and other research funding programs about how best to nurture the production of usable science and technology.


Arnott, James. 2019. Accelerating Actionable Sustainability Science: Science Funding, Co-Production, and the Evolving Social Contract for Science. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.