Notes #9

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Empty Institutions

A fascinating new concept in governance studies: Empty Institutions in Global Environmental Politics (Radoslav S Dimitrov, in International Studies Review, 12 June 2019. Starting from the question why are some institutions without any policy powers or output, this article documents the efforts by governments to create international institutions whose mandates deprive them of any capacity for policy formulation or implementation, and concludes:

Empty institutions are deliberately designed not to deliver and serve two purposes. First, they are political tools for hiding failure at negotiations, by creating a public impression of policy progress. Second, empty institutions are “decoys” that distract public scrutiny and legitimize collective inaction, by filling the institutional space in a given issue area and by neutralizing pressures for genuine policy. Contrary to conventional academic wisdom, institutions can be raised as obstacles that pre-empt governance rather than facilitate it.

Radoslav S Dimit

Examples mentioned include the United Nations Forum on Forests, the Copenhagen Accord on Climate Change, and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. My worry: Will the HLPF be emptied out?

Stumbled over …

An interesting article on Transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge and sustainability transformations: Three generic mechanisms of impact generation by Flurina Schneider et al. (Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 102, December 2019, Pages 26-35) which looks into something I have been questioning about for years already:

Transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge is widely credited with producing knowledge that can contribute to sustainability transformations, but there is little empirical evidence showing to what extent and through what mechanisms it is actually advancing sustainability.

Flurina Schneider et al 2019

The study looks at 31 research projects by the University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment’s (CDE). A meta-level comparison of projects’ theory of change identifies three distinct generic mechanisms of impact generation: a) promoting systems, target, and transformation knowledge for more informed and equitable decision-making, b) fostering social learning for collective action, and c) enhancing competences for reflective leadership. It concludes that the most promising pathways to impact are long-term, adaptive processes that combine elements of the three mechanisms of impact generation in parallel or over time.

But open questions remained regarding, first, the validity of the identified impact generation mechanisms under different contexts and second, to what extent true sustainability transformations were triggered.

Flurina Schneider et al 2019

While the article does not yet fully answers my long-standing questions on why and if transdisciplinary research has a significant impact (especially relative to non-transdisciplinary research) on transformations, it provides some inroads and underscores the importance of change theory thinking for enhancing and tracking impact.

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RRI Survey

This survey is intended for people working in research and innovation around the world. This study is part of the EU-funded ‘Responsible Research and Innovation Networking Globally’ (RRING) project, which is exploring how good practices are established in different research and innovation contexts across the world (


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#Data & Digitalization#Digitalisation#Earth System Governance#Emerging Technologies#Empty Institutions#Inovation#Research Infrastructure#RRI#Science Communication#Social Media#Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)#Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)#transdiciplinarity#transformation#Utrecht University