Study Explores CGIAR Efforts in “Boundary Work” on Sustainable Resource Management

August 2011: A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences documents a decade of efforts by the Alternatives to Slash and Burn Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margin (ASB), a programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), as it sought to bridge the divide between knowledge creation and action in sustainable natural resource management.

The study focuses on the concept of  "boundary work," or the process of producing useful knowledge that can be applied in a local specific context. Boundary work activities aim to mediate between knowledge and action, thereby constructing and managing interfaces between stakeholders involved in the production and use of knowledge for sustainable resource use. ASB has worked to link knowledge with action in a large number of extension and natural resource management projects.

The objective of the study is to examine whether ASB's experiences confirm the attributes thought to support successful boundary work: meaningful participation in agenda setting and knowledge production by relevant stakeholders; governance arrangements that assure accountability to relevant stakeholders; and the production of “boundary objects,” such as reports, models, maps, or standards that can be adapted to different viewpoints and are robust enough to maintain identity across them.

The study finds that different types of boundary work respond to different objectives of knowledge use, such as advancing understanding of complex issues, supporting decision making, or informing negotiation processes. Strategies for participation, accountability and governance and the development of boundary objects vary with these objectives.

On a more general level, the study identifies key preconditions for successful boundary work: capacity building in knowledge communication, integration of multiple forms of knowledge, and managing power relationships to avoid politicization of knowledge. The authors conclude that in order to improve the ability of global research programmes, such as the CGIAR, to produce useful knowledge for sustainable development, more attention should be paid to supporting multiple forms of boundary work. [Publication: Boundary Work for Sustainable Development]