Socio-political Decision-making (D1)

Socio-political Decision-making (D1)

D1) Professional epistemologies and integration of biodiversity-related knowledge into socio-political decision-making

Michael Pregernig & Ronja Mikoleit

University of Freiburg, Faculty of Environment & Natural Resources, Institute of Environmental Social Sciences & Geography, Chair Group of Sustainability Governance


The disciplinary integration of scientific knowledge and its translation into application systems has frequently been pledged, but science-policy studies indicate that the interface between science, policy and praxis is often not effective. The reasons for that may range from ineffective communication to incompatible incentives structures in science and practice to strategic use (and sometimes misuse) of research results by the users (1). If conceptualized in an overly instrumental and linear way, the integration and translation of ConFoBi results risks being obstructed by the aforementioned factors as well.

Study questions and hypotheses

D1 addresses the question under which conditions specific stocks of biodiversity-related knowledge are taken up – or maybe even created – in different societal decision contexts. In theoretical terms, the project proposes to develop a framework built on the concept of ‘professional epistemologies’, i.e. the institutionalized practices by which members of different professional communities test and deploy knowledge claims used as a basis for their decision-making (2).

D1 is built on the hypothesis that both within the field of biodiversity science and the different areas of biodiversity policy and management in a broader sense there are clearly distinguishable professional epistemologies that have an impact on problem definition, agenda setting as well as the formulation and implementation of problem-solving strategies.

Approach and methods

D1 uses a qualitative-interpretative approach to investigate (a) the specific ‘thought styles’(3) of ConFoBi-relevant scientific disciplines and (b) the specific ‘knowledge orders ’(4) that characterize different decision-making contexts in the broader ConFoBi research area. In a first empirical step, D1 will reconstruct the disciplinary thought styles of a small set of disciplines represented in ConFoBi. By means of document analysis, expert interviews and participatory observations, the project will investigate and compare discipline-specific inner-scientific practices (incl. theoretical assumptions, canonical methodologies, and forms and hierarchies of evidence) as well as the respective disciplines’ recognized practices of interacting with non-scientists (incl. the affinity to transdisciplinary modes of knowledge production, accountability styles, and strategies to demarcate the boundary between science and non-science).

In a second empirical step, D1 reconstructs the specific knowledge orders of a number of archetypical decision-making contexts in which conservation-relevant organizations (in the broadest sense) draw on insight from biodiversity research to guide or contextualize their decisions. Organizational structures and decision-making processes to be analysed by means of document analysis and expert interviews include planning and management activities of state or private forest enterprises, control and advisory activities of forest administrations, campaigns and education programs of nature conservation associations, as well as the implementation of specific conservation projects. In a third step, D1 contrasts the different disciplinary thought styles and organizational knowledge orders to gain insights on how specific professional epistemologies mediate the effectiveness of distinct approaches of interdisciplinary integration and knowledge translation.


D1 cooperates with modules A and B in its effort to derive and reflect on disciplinary thought styles, C2 in partly shared data collection and analysis and D2 in jointly conducting ConFoBi workshops and deducing translation-relevant assessment criteria. In the end, D1 helps to clarify how biodiversity knowledge is represented, under what circumstances science can provide decision-relevant knowledge and where and how a translational approach has to take account of specific institutional contexts and related thought-styles and knowledge orders.

With that, the project promises to close both a theoretical and empirical research gap: With the concept of professional epistemologies it provides a theoretical bridge between science studies and organizational sociology; with the coupled analysis of scientific communities and communities of practice it lays the ground for an applied operationalization of the translational approach in conservation science and practice.

Further reading

  • Pregernig 2014. Framings of science-policy interactions and their discursive and institutional effects: examples from conservation and environmental policy. Biodiversity and Conservation, 23/14, 3615-3639.
  • Jasanoff 2005. Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton University Press.
  • Reckwitz 2002: Toward a Theory of Social Practices: A Development in Culturalist Theorizing. Europ JSocial Theory 5:243-263.
  • Mayer 2006. Biodiversity: The appreciation of different thought styles and values helps to clarify the term.Restor. Ecol. 14:105-111.