Citizen science seagrass monitoring project in China (Photo: Erhui Feng)

02/05/2022 | In a new publication in the Journal of Environmental Management, an international collective of authors examines successful examples of knowledge exchange between science and society. From the ZMT side, Tim Jennerjahn and Jialin Zhang contributed to the meta-study with the TICAS project, as well as Paul Tuda with the FIDEA project. In the following interview they and Rebecca Lahl from the Office for Knowledge Exchange explain the new findings and the relevance of the work.

What was the initial question of the study?

Tim Jennerjahn: In times of global change and growing pressures on the environment there is a need for evidence-based decision-making, which requires an interactive knowledge exchange (KE) between science and society. Though growing, this sector is still in its infancy. While a lot of activities have been started in past years, it is still unclear: what are the most promising pathways and enabling factors?

What exactly did you investigate?

Tim Jennerjahn: The goal of the study was to define, identify and evaluate success in the interactive exchange between science and society, with the goal of an informed decision-making and sustainable management of the marine environment. The participants and studies covered all continents, all oceans and all latitudes. The main questions addressed issues like, which approaches to KE were used, what impacts were achieved or what were the enablers of KE success? Last not least, we tried to answer the question of what lessons can we draw to improve KE at the interface of marine science and policy?

What are the new findings?

Tim Jennerjahn: There are "bright spots", studies which serve as examples of successful KE between science and decision-making. The use of diverse approaches from consultative engagement through to genuine knowledge co-production resulted in diverse successes at the interface of marine science and policy and includes impacts on policy, people, and governance. Among the factors enabling success, involving diverse actors and managing positive relationships is of key importance. Personal commitment of the people involved is identified as a key factor for success and discloses a lack of institutionalization and resources.

What are examples of successful knowledge exchange with decision makers?

Jialin Zhang: The Sino-German collaboration project “Tackling Environmental Change Issues of China's Coastal Aquatic Systems: networking, capacity building and knowledge exchange” (TICAS), coordinated by ZMT, was chosen for the study as one of the successful examples. It has established a dialogue between scientists and stakeholders in China, and has generated various outputs like a citizen science seagrass monitoring, a Policy Brief, or fact sheets for the general public.

Paul Tuda: Another successful study from ZMT featured in the publication is the Fishing Data East Africa (FIDEA), a partnership project between the ZMT and research institutions in Tanzania, Zanzibar and Mozambique. In this project, 30 fisheries scientists from 12 countries in the Western Indian Ocean region have been trained on stock assessment, and partnerships have been established to provide long-term support on developing appropriate fisheries data management systems.

How has the success of such initiatives been determined or evaluated?

Tim Jennerjahn: All study participants filled a survey which asked for actors, processes, support, context, and timing in the individual case studies. The responses were analyzed with the qualitative data analysis software NVIVO 12. KE is a relatively new concept within marine management and, hence, little is known on its success. Therefore, the large set of case studies in this meta study allows for the first time to evaluate success and to extract enabling factors on a more general level.

How can such exchanges be made more effective?

Tim Jennerjahn: Knowledge exchange is still rather a "hobby" for scientists with a heart for the environment. It is not yet institutionalized, not implemented in the agendas of research and funding organizations. We need to change this!

We learned four major lessons from the meta study. First, the training of scientists needs to include a greater focus on interpersonal skills. Second, institutionalizing and supporting knowledge exchange activities in organizational agendas is required. Third, broader research impact metrics need to be conceptualized and implemented in order to provide scientists with incentives to engage themselves. And fourth, funding mechanisms need to be transformed to focus on need-based interventions, impact planning, and an acknowledgement of the required time and effort that underpin knowledge exchange activities.

Why are the results relevant for society?

Tim Jennerjahn: It is a common goal of science and society to make the best possible use of research results for a sustainable management of the oceans and coasts around the globe. Therefore, every step forward in the communication and collaboration between science and society will benefit the valuable marine ecosystems and the services they provide to humankind. Knowledge Exchange can be a very powerful tool for creating "The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want" in the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences and helps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Jialin Zhang: As someone working at the interface of science and society, or so-called ‘knowledge broker’, I am very happy to see such work as shown in this publication. Because the majority of new information in this area is either theoretical or case study based and context specific. This study can really assist to improve knowledge exchange processes in the future.

Rebecca Lahl: ZMT has made knowledge exchange an elementary part of its research process and overall strategy. Since its establishment in 2014, the Office for Knowledge Exchange (OKE) has developed a range of tools and collected good practice for knowledge exchange to guide ZMT staff and support our research partnerships. I am thrilled about this publication, because it will improve our daily work and our impact beyond academia. It also underlines the need to transform the way success in science is being measured and funded.


Karcher, D.B., C. Cvitanovic, I.E. van Putten, R.M. Colvin, D. Armitage, S. Aswani Canela, M. Ballesteros, N.C. Ban, M.J. Barragán, A. Bednarek, J.D. Bell, C. Brooks, T.M. Daw, R. de la Cruz Modino, T.B. Francis, E.A. Fulton, A. Hobday, D. Holcer, C. Hudson, T.C. Jennerjahn, A. Kinney, M. Knol-Kauffman, M.F. Löf, P.F.M. Lopes, P. Mackelworth, A. McQuatters-Gollop, E.-K. Muhl, P. Neihapi, J. Pascual-Fernández, S. Posner, H. Runhaar, K. Sainsbury, G. Sander, D.J. Steenbergen, P.M. Tuda, L. Whiteman, J. Zhang (2022). Advancing knowledge exchange at the interface of marine science and policy: lessons from global bright spots. Journal of Environmental Management 314: 114994.