Co-Producing Actionable Science

Meeting modern environmental challenges like climate change requires new perspectives, approaches, collaborations and knowledge — and new ways of linking scholarship with society. One such way is by developing decision-relevant science — or actionable science — that can inform decisions to help fish, wildlife, water, land and people adapt to a changing climate.

Click on the expanding boxes below to learn more about developing actionable science and for information about relevant papers.

What is Actionable Science and Why Does it Matter for Climate Adaptation?

  • Meade Krosby leads a workshop to demonstrate use of the Tribal Climate Tool, developed by the UW Climate Impacts Group in collaboration with regional climate partners.

    What is Actionable Science?

    Actionable science describes science that is used to inform decision-making and help solve real-world problems. Different from basic or foundational science that improves fundamental understanding of an area of study, actionable science is developed in response to a need for specific information to address practical problems. In the context of big, complex social and ecological challenges like climate change, actionable science is needed to answer questions that can help decision-makers manage climate risks to protect our lands, waters, fish, wildlife and people in the face of ongoing change.

     Examples of Actionable Science Products: 

  • Why is Actionable Science Valuable for Climate Adaptation?

    Today’s big, hard problems, like adapting to climate change, require science that meets on-the-ground needs. Every day, people are making decisions around managing our natural and cultural resources that will affect our future resilience to climate change. In order for local policy-makers, resource managers and communities to take action to help our region prepare for and adapt to ongoing change, they need decision-relevant climate science at the scales and on the topics that matter to the communities they represent. This can help decision-makers better understand the risks to climate change, evaluate tradeoffs of different adaptation approaches and prioritize actions. Additionally, sponsors are increasingly requiring science with demonstrated impact.


    Lemos, M. C., Kirchhoff, C. J., & Ramprasad, V. (2012). Narrowing the climate information usability gap. Nature climate change, 2(11), 789-794.

    Kirchhoff, C. J., Carmen Lemos, M., & Dessai, S. (2013). Actionable knowledge for environmental decision making: broadening the usability of climate science. Annual review of environment and resources, 38, 393-414.

    Cash, David W., William C. Clark, Frank Alcock, Nancy M. Dickson, Noelle Eckley, David H. Guston, Jill Jäger, and Ronald B. Mitchell. “Knowledge systems for sustainable development.” Proceedings of the national academy of sciences 100, no. 14 (2003): 8086-8091.

    Sarkki, S., Niemelä, J., Tinch, R., Van Den Hove, S., Watt, A., & Young, J. (2014). Balancing credibility, relevance and legitimacy: a critical assessment of trade-offs in science–policy interfaces. Science and Public Policy, 41(2), 194-206.

  • UW Professors and students walking through Yellowstone National Park

    What are Different Ways to Produce Actionable Science?

    Knowledge brokering 

    Collaboration & Capacity-building


    Van Kerkhoff, L., & Lebel, L. (2006). Linking knowledge and action for sustainable development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 31.

    Turnhout, E., Stuiver, M., Klostermann, J., Harms, B., & Leeuwis, C. (2013). New roles of science in society: different repertoires of knowledge brokering. Science and public policy, 40(3), 354-365.

    Michaels, S. (2009). Matching knowledge brokering strategies to environmental policy problems and settings. Environmental Science & Policy, 12(7), 994-1011.

    Pielke Jr, R. A. (2007). The honest broker: making sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge University Press.

  • Kim Cook swabbing the feet of a Cascades frog to check for the presence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a sometimes-deadly fungal pathogen of amphibians

    What is Co-Production and How Can it Support Actionable Science?

    Co-production describes the process of creating new knowledge through collaboration between scientists and those who use science to make policy and management decisions, with the intention of making the science usable (or actionable) in practice. In a co-produced research process, researchers and decision-makers work together throughout the lifecycle of a project to identify the research question, design the research process and share the results. This process brings together different perspectives and different forms of knowledge to develop context-specific knowledge that lies at the boundary of science and decision-making. 

    The continual engagement between scientists and decision-makers throughout a research process differs from the traditional and linear “loading dock” approach, or one-way transfer to connect science with society, in which science is produced and handed off to society  (usually in the form of a peer-reviewed paper) in hopes that it will be useful to a decision-maker. In reality, the decision-maker may never see it, or it might be irrelevant or difficult to apply to their decision-making context. Because of this, the one-way transfer of information is typically ineffective in generating science that is used. 

    Many scientists have been trained in this loading dock approach, prioritizing communication at the end of the research process to share results. However, in a co-produced research process, communication is an ongoing part of the entire process, from a project’s initial stages through sharing results and beyond. Although the products from a co-produced research process may include a peer-reviewed paper, the research is also likely to be delivered in other formats such as maps, datasets, online tools, news pieces, workshops or ongoing collaborative efforts. Because the products of co-production are created with the knowledge, expertise and buy-in of decision-makers, they’re more likely to be useful and used.


    Webinar: Developing a Successful Co-production Collaboration between Scientists and Practitioners

    Meadow, A. M., Ferguson, D. B., Guido, Z., Horangic, A., Owen, G., & Wall, T. (2015). Moving toward the deliberate coproduction of climate science knowledge. Weather, Climate, and Society, 7(2), 179-191.

    Norström, Albert V., Christopher Cvitanovic, Marie F. Löf, Simon West, Carina Wyborn, Patricia Balvanera, Angela T. Bednarek et al. “Principles for knowledge co-production in sustainability research.” Nature sustainability (2020): 1-9.

    Cash, David W., William C. Clark, Frank Alcock, Nancy M. Dickson, Noelle Eckley, David H. Guston, Jill Jäger, and Ronald B. Mitchell. “Knowledge systems for sustainable development.” Proceedings of the national academy of sciences 100, no. 14 (2003): 8086-8091.

    This paper describes how science that is created in close collaboration with societal partners and decisions-makers is often considered more credible (scientifically sound), salient (relevant to a management decision) and legitimate (fair, unbiased). When science is seen as being credible, salient and legitimate, there is a greater chance that it will be used.

    Sarkki, S., Niemelä, J., Tinch, R., Van Den Hove, S., Watt, A., & Young, J. (2014). Balancing credibility, relevance and legitimacy: a critical assessment of trade-offs in science–policy interfaces. Science and Public Policy, 41(2), 194-206.

How Do You Design a Co-Produced, Actionable Science Process?

  • Considerations Before Starting a Co-Produced Project

    • Your partners are likely to have important differences in timelines, values, culture, incentives, ways of knowing and definitions of evidence and certainty.
    • Effective collaboration relies on having a respectful interest in how people do their work.
    • You can consider engaging a neutral, third-party facilitator to prevent power dynamics from playing out and creating barriers to authentic engagement.
    • Co-production efforts often take significantly more time, funding and engagement than a traditional research process.
    • The activities involved and products that result from a co-produced research process may not fit neatly into the incentives structures of your institution. For example, although there is pressure in academia to publish peer-reviewed literature, a white paper is likely not the most useful product for project partners. 
    • To promote equity, it is very important to be aware of who is present at the table and receiving information, and who is not present at the table but should be. As scientists, we are not operating outside of society but embedded within it and need to recognize power structures that exist. For more information, see the Addressing Equity and Power Sharing in Actionable Science information further down this page.


    Lemos, M. C., Arnott, J. C., Ardoin, N. M., Baja, K., Bednarek, A. T., Dewulf, A., … & Mach, K. J. (2018). To co-produce or not to co-produce. Nature Sustainability, 1(12), 722-724.

    Pohl, C., Krütli, P., & Stauffacher, M. (2017). Ten reflective steps for rendering research societally relevant. GAIA-Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 26(1), 43-51.

    Norström, Albert V., Christopher Cvitanovic, Marie F. Löf, Simon West, Carina Wyborn, Patricia Balvanera, Angela T. Bednarek et al. “Principles for knowledge co-production in sustainability research.” Nature sustainability (2020): 1-9.

  • Creating a Science-Practice Collaboration

    • Reach out to make new connections.
    • Build trust and rapport.
    • Develop mutual understanding of the problem and demonstrate respect to project partners.
    • Partner to enhance collaborative opportunities.
    • Be patient.
    • Be prepared to jump in quickly. There may be unexpected windows of opportunity and it’s important to respond when an opportunity presents itself.


    Laursen, S., Puniwai, N., Genz, A. S., Nash, S. A., Canale, L. K., & Ziegler-Chong, S. (2018). Collaboration across worldviews: managers and scientists on Hawaiʻi Island utilize knowledge coproduction to facilitate climate change adaptation. Environmental management, 62(4), 619-630.

    Beier, P., Hansen, L. J., Helbrecht, L., & Behar, D. (2017). A how‐to guide for coproduction of actionable science. Conservation Letters, 10(3), 288-296.

  • Camas root is a traditional food from the Salish Kootenai culture and the tradition of gathering of the food is being passed down to younger generations.

    Co-Defining a Problem to Tackle

    • Identify where is there overlap between societal needs and the potential for advances in knowledge and understanding. Actionable science is focused on socially-relevant problems that also park scientific research questions. 
      • Who could use the scientific information and how could they use it?
    • Learn about the contexts under which partners and other players operate (there are social science approaches for quickly assessing contexts under which an organization operates). You can ask questions like:
      • What decisions are being made (when, where and by whom)?
      • Where do people have the freedom to act on new information
      • How do laws, regulations and policies influence decision-makers’ ability to incorporate new information or change procedures or actions?
    • Define the desired outcome or management objective.
      • Given that often, decisions must be made before the scientific outcomes are understood, what is realistic expectation of what is possible and useful within the available time and budget?
    • What would success look like for all parties (e.g., recognition, collaborative process, science products – peer-reviewed papers, outcomes – conservation decisions)?


    Errett, N. A., Roop, H. A., Pendergrast, C., Kramer, C. B., Doubleday, A., Tran, K. A., & Busch Isaksen, T. M. (2019). Building a practice-based research agenda for wildfire smoke and health: a report of the 2018 Washington Wildfire Smoke Risk Communication Stakeholder Synthesis Symposium. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(13), 2398.

    Roesch-McNally, G., Chang, M., Dalton, M., Lowe, S., Luce, C., May, C., … & York, E. (2020). Beyond Climate Impacts: Knowledge Gaps and Process-Based Reflection on Preparing a Regional Chapter for the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Weather, Climate, and Society, 12(3), 337-350.

  • Co-Designing the Process

    • Refine research objectives with your project partners. Since your research objectives may change throughout the life of a project, it’s important to circle back with your partners at every step. Defining the objectives of a project should be an iterative process.
    • Design a conceptual framework for knowledge exchange and integration. For each step of research process, define who contributes what, who is supported by which means, and to what end). Give priority to processes and outcomes over stand-alone products
    • Discuss ground rules regarding:
      • data creation, utilization and ownership
      • public and scholarly dissemination of information about the collaboration and the products
    • Collaboratively decide on deadlines and make sure that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities.
    • Discuss strategies for handling potential conflicts at the outset of the project.
    • Revisit ground rules throughout the project.
    • Focus on tangible, timely and useable results.


    Lang, D. J., Wiek, A., Bergmann, M., Stauffacher, M., Martens, P., Moll, P., … & Thomas, C. J. (2012). Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability science, 7(1), 25-43.

    Vogel, J., McNie, E., & Behar, D. (2016). Co-producing actionable science for water utilities. Climate Services, 2, 30-40.

  • Vibrant green coastal marsh near Three Rocks State Park on the Oregon coast

    Sharing Results of Co-Produced Actionable Science

    • Integrate and apply co-created knowledge
      • Into practice
      • Into science
    • Follow-up – revisit processes and outcomes with partners to nurture long-term collaboration
      • Ongoing interaction builds mutual capacity for science-practice collaborations


    Communication as an Essential Ingredient for Actionable Science

    What Can Successful Communication Look Like in Actionable Science? Examples from the Climate Adaptation Science Centers

Actionable Science in Practice

  • Addressing Equity and Power Sharing in Co-Production

    Collaborations between scientists and non-scientists are becoming increasingly important for addressing today’s complex environmental issues. However, there continue to be challenges with these types of collaborations.

    Issues with traditional scientific research that affect collaborative research: 

    • Scientific research has a history of serving elite interests. Science has been and often continues to be seen as having more authority over local knowledge and perspectives.
    • Scientific research can be extractive from communities. It has and can do more harm than good.
    • Science (and scientists) often fail to recognize the autonomy and self-determination of communities.

    Addressing inequities and unequal power sharing in collaborative research:

    • The process of scientists and decision-makers co-producing new knowledge, when successful, addresses this history and context and works to dismantle it. This involves: 
      • Decentering academia
      • Sharing decision-making power and resources
      • Building and sustaining ongoing, trusting relationships (“no information about us without us”)
      • Have shared ground rules so that you can hold people accountable
      • Spend time developing shared values before you launch into what you’re going to do
      • Spend time setting common ground
      • Agree on how to deal with conflict
      • Use a justice-oriented framework, that is agree on power sharing and share power and resources
      • Understand who is the most effective messenger (it may or may not be you)
      • Acknowledge the power dynamics in the room and establish how you are going to address those
      • Center the focus of the research collaboration in the community rather than in traditional research settings, which can allow for more inclusive processes and outcomes.


    NW CASC Webinar: Best Practices for Collaborative Climate Adaptation Research between Tribal and Non-tribal Partners

    NW CASC Webinar: Improving Ethical Practice in Transdisciplinary Research Project

    Mobilizing transdisciplinary collaborations: collective reflections on decentering academia in knowledge production, Alonso-Yanez et al.

    Chief, K., Meadow, A., & Whyte, K. (2016). Engaging southwestern tribes in sustainable water resources topics and management. Water, 8(8), 350.

    Turnhout, E., Metze, T., Wyborn, C., Klenk, N., & Louder, E. (2020). The politics of co-production: participation, power, and transformation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 42, 15-21.

    Spectrum of community engagement to ownership handout 

  • NW CASC's Approach to Co-Producing Actionable Science

    The NW CASC produces actionable science on climate change impacts and adaptation actions for Northwest natural resource managers and policy-makers. We do this by supporting research that addresses stakeholder-defined priority science needs around impacts of climate change and variability in the Northwest. The NW CASC’s Science Agenda, which guides the science that we support, is developed in collaboration with the NW CASC Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC), which includes representatives of state, federal and tribal resource management agencies located in the Northwest. In addition to the Committee’s work on the Science Agenda every five years, the Committee meets regularly to help identify emerging science needs and priorities to ensure that NW CASC-funded science is ultimately useful, relevant and of value to regional management of cultural and natural resources. Through our Research Fellowship Program, we support research by early-career NW CASC Fellows and provide training in the principles and practices of developing actionable science. 



    NW CASC Webinar: Navigating Co-Production as a Graduate or Postdoctoral Researcher to Make Science That Matters

    DeCrappeo, N. M., Bisbal, G. A., & Meadow, A. M. (2018). A path to actionable climate science: perspectives from the field. Environmental management, 61(2), 181-187.

    NW CASC’s 2018-23 Science Agenda 

  • New Actionable Science Resources

    A new paper in the journal Science sheds light on how social inequities, including racism and classism, are impacting biodiversity, evolution and plant and animal health in cities. The paper calls for expanding our understanding of environmental issues to encompass societal issues and for pushing for science centered around anti-racism and environmental justice. Lead Author Christopher Schell was quoted in a recent article in UW News: “I hope this paper will shine the light and create a paradigm shift in science. That means fundamentally changing how researchers do their science, which questions they ask, and realizing that their usual set of questions might be incomplete.”

    Read the paper

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