Co-producing Future Earth: ambiguity and experimentation in the governance of global environmental change research

Hadley Kershaw, Eleanor (2018) Co-producing Future Earth: ambiguity and experimentation in the governance of global environmental change research. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The aim of this thesis is to investigate efforts to transform global environmental change research through co-design and co-production (involving non-academic actors in research governance and conduct). Social scientific work to date on this topic has largely taken an evaluative perspective, outlining challenges of and guidelines for co-production on the ground. By contrast, there is little work on how co-production is conceptualised and put into practice through (international) research governance. Yet institutions aiming to govern research are significant arbiters of meaning and power; their efforts to change research are worthy of investigation.

The thesis is based on a qualitative case study of Future Earth, a major international research initiative on global environmental change (GEC) and sustainability. Future Earth is unique in its ambition to internationally coordinate and co-design/co-produce new GEC/sustainability research at a global scale. The study is grounded in co-productionist, interpretive science and technology studies, drawing on ideas about political imaginaries of science and experimental approaches to engagement. It is based on thematic analysis of data from documents, interviews, focus groups and observation of Future Earth’s emergence and development between 2010 and 2015.

The analysis suggests that visions of Future Earth were ambitious, diverse and sometimes ambiguous, evoking two potential institutional forms: a unified, cohesive ‘flagship’, or a ‘rich tapestry’ of varied initiatives. Ambiguity persisted in how co-production and related concepts were understood, with varying definitions motivated by different rationales for increased (or limited) involvement of non-academic stakeholders, from ensuring relevance to democratising expertise to preserving the objectivity or independence of science. These notions of appropriate engagement were underpinned by disparate conceptions of the value of research (as a service to society, site of democratic deliberation, or public good), reproducing (and challenging) established models of science and democracy.

The thesis argues that, from an experimental perspective, this ambiguity in visions of (co-production in) Future Earth can be seen to enable flexibility and allow differences to co-exist. This might require new, perhaps radical, thinking about how to organise, conduct and value research and its outcomes, with an increased emphasis on fostering, appreciating and productively working with diversity and institutional indeterminacy.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Raman, Sujatha
Nerlich, Brigitte
Keywords: co-production, co-design, transdisciplinarity, global environmental change, sustainability, science and society, science and democracy, research governance
Subjects: H Social sciences > H Social sciences (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Institute for Science and Society
UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 49869
Depositing User: Hadley Kershaw, Eleanor
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2018 11:29
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2019 10:17

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