This project is funded by
the European Union

Case study: Developing a Knowledge Network for EUropean expertise on biodiversity and ecosystem services to inform policy making economic sectors

project information

The KNEU project designed a Network of Knowledge approach (NoK) aiming at better bridging biodiversity knowledge and decision making in Europe. For this purpose the project mapped existing knowledge holders and potential users, identified obstacles to knowledge flow and developed procedures to identify and access expertise ready to answer policy-relevant questions. These procedures were tested in three practical cases: biodiversity conservation, agriculture and biodiversity and a marine biodiversity case.


The project developed a Network of Knowledge (NoK) prototype based on four main steps:
  1. Producing an overview of the biodiversity knowledge landscape in Europe thus providing a basis for the design and potential contributors to a NoK. (WP1)
  2. Developing a first prototype NoK, based on the current landscape and discussing structural, methodological and functional issues of a NoK with the community of knowledge holders via online media – the project’s website – a set of regional workshops and a European conference discussion for setting a concrete prototype took place. (WP2)
  3. Testing the prototype for 3 major case study areas for biodiversity governance: agriculture, conservation and marine biodiversity. For these areas, recent governance challenges in need for knowledge input to solve them were identified with potential clients from policy and other decision makers and then tackled by the NoK prototype, aiming to derive input into the societal discussions, but in first place, testing the NoK structure with respect to its effectiveness. (WP3)
  4. Using the experience to further revise the NoK prototype and probably come up with best practices and if possible to recommend the design for a future NoK structure. (WP5)
The steps were guided by an internal evaluation process (WP4) and by a communication and dissemination approach (WP6), thus ensuring a high profile and broad involvement into the projects steps. The overall objective of the project is to develop a recommended design for a scientific biodiversity Network of Knowledge (NoK) to inform policy-makers and other societal actors. This network shall be open, transparent, flexible, equally accessible to all, independent, be scientifically- and evidence-based and have a robust structure. It will develop links to relevant clients to support the science-society interface in Europe and beyond. The project has achieved all its objectives, as it succeeded (i) to gain a broad overview of existing knowledge holders and (potential) requesters on biodiversity issues, (ii) to develop a procedure to identify and access expertise ready to answer policy-relevant questions including a set of rules and processes to ensure operating under the principles mentioned above, (iii) to test the procedures in three practical cases, (iv) to implement a process of learning by doing permitting continuous improvement throughout the project and within the proposed design and finally (v) to distil and communicate a set of lessons learned and based on all of this develop a recommended design for a NoK. In this collaborative effort the project has carved out the two main identified functions for a NoK: a networking and capacity-building function (NET) and an answering-decision-making-needs function (ADN). Implementing these can significantly enhance the science-policy interface landscape and would constitute an essential part of a future European mechanism on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Policy context

The KNEU project designed a Network of Knowledge approach (NoK) aiming at better bridging biodiversity knowledge and decision making in Europe. Three areas where decision-making could profit directly from an improved knowledge input were highlighted:
  • The joint formulation of questions building on an integral and more holistic understanding of all relevant factors should identify distinct policy-relevant questions that science and other forms of relevant knowledge are able to address and provide concrete answers to;
  • A better understanding of concrete policy impacts on the ground, to allow for the development of implementation-oriented concrete proposals for tools and options to bring about desired change in practice;
  • Coherent and independent analysis able to inform, raise awareness and trigger action beyond the environmental sector, in all relevant policy domains.
Parts of these needs are addressed by EU institutions from a policy as well as research policy perspective. On the policy side, for example, the role of the European Environment Agency was strengthened, including its leading role in setting up and further developing the Biodiversity Information System Europe (BISE).

environmental impacts

  • Better informed decisions from policy-makers on biodiversity and ecosystem services by obtaining scientific information needed to protect public health and the environment.
  • Better understanding of issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Better formulation of environmental policy, regulation and governance system on biodiversity and ecosystem services

socioeconomic impacts

Knowledge transfer activities, and specifically interfaces between knowledge holders and decision-making, are highly relevant from a socio-economic perspective. Such interface activities help to shape the knowledge basis and views on their topics. Especially on environmental issues, such activities have played an increasing role in the past in shaping policies and decision-making on different, e.g. in the context of the Climate Change and the role that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took in this context in raising the awareness on a topic and its challenges, and how potential reactions from policy and other decision-making entities, like the private sector, could look like.
Also in the area on biodiversity and ecosystem services, this development can be seen, starting with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), the initiative on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and only lately, the foundation of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Especially TEEB helped to shape the awareness in the private sector and in society on the risk and challenges that come with continued loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Many according activities are ongoing, globally and in Europe, to address these issues (e.g., the EU Business and Biodiversity Initiative), but often they still lack a proper, reflexive process to look at existing knowledge and how this can support existing and planned policies and decision-making.
The model proposed with the NoK approach has additional far-reaching consequences and implications for the wider society. To date, relevant knowledge as basis for policy decision is still often used in an interest-driven way, and the processes leading to this knowledge, via studies, reports, etc., are often not transparent which makes it hard to judge on their quality and balance. Open approaches, based on the chances of transparency via electronic tools, joint with the possibilities of different knowledge assessment approaches, as it has been proposed in the NoK approach, showcase a possible pathway for a wider and fairer engagement of relevant stakeholders in such knowledge gathering processes. This has also been discussed in detail in the context of IPBES, where for example the involvement of indigenous and local knowledge holders in its processes is subject to an own task force.
With such an open approach, a NoK would actively contribute to a better understanding of issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and enable a broader participation in according discussions for all stakeholders. With respect to biodiversity and ecosystem services, an important link here could also be developed around the issue of citizen science activities, which enable citizens to actively participate in monitoring biodiversity and contribute to according research. Here, a broader societal awareness raising function can be envisaged for a NoK by better linking knowledge gathered in such approaches (as well as in science itself) to societal decision making and monitoring.
Beyond this issue of improved awareness-raising, a NoK will also address a concern regularly raised on how science is actually used in policy and decision-making. Often, science is perceived as taking “one side” of a debate, and thus is also disregarded as being led by interests in the according policy debate. A NoK could provide a pathway to bring different views in science together in a more transparent way, and identify diverging views and interpretations more openly.

key lessons

The KNEU project developed an innovative approach to link the environmental knowledge and expertise held separately by various stakeholders. The project yielded a design for a Network of Knowledge aiming to gather and unify the knowledge in order to support environmental policy decisions in Europe.
  • The particular lessons learned in the three case studies were partly complementary, but had at the same time several important issues in common. For broad questions as posed by policy-makers, large amounts of evidence could be detected and much effort was needed for its screening and categorizing. However, given the variability of environmental issues, big knowledge gaps became obvious. For several specific interventions and even more for combinations of specific interventions and specific species, species groups or ecosystems, robust studies of high quality standards lacked entirely, and applied research on biodiversity and ecosystem services is heavily needed to enable evidence-based policy making.
  • A further important insight was that despite much dedication of effort and time at the first dialogue phase with requesters and experts, questions and aims of the procedure were often too broad, not sufficiently focused and too heterogeneous to be tackled in a single knowledge assessment procedure. Thus, involved stakeholders (mainly study coordinators, participating experts, requesters, policy makers, and funders of such assessments) should be strongly aware of the need to re-discuss the setting of the questions in the light of new information about volume, heterogeneity and content of the related evidence.
  • Workshops and too a much lesser extent teleconferences were very important as they led to a boost of motivation and were a very effective way of advancing in the assessments as they enabled deep interdisciplinary discussions, exchange of ideas and perspectives on the matter, and face-to-face networking opportunities. Generally, bridging the gap between scientists (primarily interested in disseminating and exchanging original research) and practitioners and managers (primarily interested in applying available knowledge and being successful with it) was a major challenge in the process. Scientific knowledge was also much easier to access than other forms of knowledge, such as practical experience or indigenous knowledge.
  • None of the tools designed for the access of scientific knowledge, such a literature databases and search engines, worked well for alternative forms of knowledge. Modular approaches, where some aspects of knowledge were assessed by means of reviewing evidence and others by expert consultations might be a solution for this challenge, and could perform particularly well, when combined with collaborative adaptive management approaches.
  • The results reveal that policy makers tend to use more oral sources like contacts or meetings and researchers tend to use more written sources like scientific journals, in their search for knowledge. This study showcases the mismatch of channel of communication used by both groups. Researchers mainly write articles and books, but policy makers simply do not read them. This implies that researchers should meet policy makers more often to talk about their results as contacts and meetings are very important sources of knowledge for policy makers. This could be one way to translate research into policy and to make knowledge available to policy and other decision makers. While written reports and policy briefs might remain an important element (including the fact that they ensure transparency and credibility of the results, e.g., when published via scientific articles), it is important to include the direct oral interactions in communication strategies, as proposed via the continuous exchange between knowledge holders and requesters in the NoK process. Also, a web based one-stop-shop as a main need by the potential requesters could play an important role linking these two modes of communication.
The added values of the NoK-approach are as follows:
  • The negotiation/scoping process with requesters under expert involvement can lead to a research question that is both scientifically achievable and politically relevant.
  • Due to the high heterogeneity of environmental issues and the scattered nature of the knowledge landscape, inclusiveness is of particular importance for assessments of high credibility and can be improved by the NoK approach. In all stages of the assessment, from the framing of the question to the conclusions and recommendations of the obtained results, the broad contribution of a diversity of experts guarantees a high level of independence and a high probability of objective (methodological) choices.
  • The NoK can also integrate knowledge (such as grey literature, local expert knowledge, and traditional knowledge) that is not accessible in ISI-journals. For these reasons, the NoK offers a significant and cost-effective added value in terms of credibility, legitimacy and independence. However, to obtain these added values, the NoK must be adequately implemented. Therefore it is required a NoK that is based on a comprehensive, continuously actualized and user friendly database of knowledge holders, and for the rationale of the NoK and its benefits for all involved stakeholders to be strongly promoted. Potential funders must be aware that environmental assessments on broad topics that should enable evidence-based policy making require a low susceptibility for bias, high robustness and quality and the dedication of much effort. The NoK-approach will develop its full added value and deliver a cost-benefit performance once it is adequately funded and implemented.

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