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Making a difference with knowledge – but how?

Many researchers who dedicate themselves to the issue of sustainability are disappointed because their scientific findings rarely lead to practical action.

The numerous attempts at practically-oriented research undertaken to date have proven incapable of solving the problem of how to transfer knowledge. And for that reason, we are taking a new route. By examining the few successful research projects in practice to date, we have found the crucial factor for transferring knowledge into practice: between research and evaluation, a third phase is necessary when scientific knowledge is selected according to its potential contribution to solving problems from the viewpoint of certain actors. This knowledge is then enforced based on the power of the actors in practice. We shall refer to this phase, to which too little attention has been paid to date, as “Integration”, and show how this relates to research and evaluation using our ‘Forschung Integration Verwertung’ (‘FIV’ or ‘Research Integration Evaluation’) model, along with practical examples.

Sustainability research has produced a vast reservoir of knowledge. But the question still remains of how such research findings can be turned into practical action, e.g. that undertaken by politicians. For us, successful knowledge transfer rests on three pillars: research, integration and evaluation.

Das FIV-Modell des Wissenstransfers. Quelle: Böcher/Krott 2012: 15.

The FIV model of knowledge transfer. Source: Böcher/Krott. 2012: 15

FIV model of scientific policy advice




Research about political problems Selection of relevant information Delivery of policy advice products oriented to norms of democracy and rule of law
Scientific formulation of measures necessary Actor orientation
  Appropriate transfer


Scientific policy advice

To transfer scientific findings into practice successfully, an excellent knowledge basis is a prerequisite: only qualitatively high-value research representing the “state-of-the-art” of the state of knowledge on a defined issue can contribute to solving current social problems such as sustainability. Where doubts exist as to the scientific quality of the research findings, it can rapidly result in a loss of confidence in the science. On the other hand, it is not yet sufficient for scientifically excellent findings to simply exist: they still have to be subjected to the demands of political actors in view of the solutions to problems they require in practice. Scientific knowledge is not “automatically” implemented. To do so requires processes of integration.

Integration is about orienting research to a practical problem. This should be successfully solved, and to do this, scientific knowledge is required. Integration works if research processes and findings are designed in such a way that they work out scientifically sound solutions which suffice to meet the concrete demands of the practitioners in terms of relevant problem solving. Orienting research to practical problems, for instance, can be achieved by actively including societal actors in the research process. This is the case in trans-disciplinary research, when practitioners actively cooperate on the research process and can directly express to the scientists their demands of solutions to problems. As not all scientific findings available are actually relevant in practice, integration also works as a “relevance filter”.

Alliance partners
‘Alliance partners’ are political actors in a position to advance the implementation of scientific findings due to their position of power in society. Internal alliance partners are practical actors who participate in the research process and the evaluation of its findings themselves. They undertake the scientific solution because it promises them benefits relative to other actors. External alliance partners are those that, while they don’t participate in the research project, do exert pressure on actors involved in the practice to induce them to seek constructive cooperation with science. Seeking suitable alliance partners and producing scientific information that is genuinely relevant for these partners represents one task of integration.

During evaluation, concrete transfer products (reports, drafts of political guidelines, brochures, etc.) are rendered into practice or science (publications). The transfer products now become a part of the actions of the political actors, and are no longer open to revision by the scientists.

Example: improvement of the ecological quality of our waters by the EU’s Water Framework Directive

In one successful case we examined, scientific knowledge was able to gain very direct access to political practice.

To implement the European Water Framework Directive in Austria, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (better known as the ‘Life Ministry’) fell back on numerous research findings it had either carried out itself or commissioned by others – institutions such as Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, for example. These data were necessary to meet European guidelines: research was being conducted which was oriented to the demands of political practice (what do we require of scientifically sound information to implement the EU Water Framework Directive?) in its integration by active selection.  As an evaluation product, expert reports were produced regarding the state of Austrian waters, which eventually found their way into the National Water Management Plan and the Austrian national Water Management Plan Regulation, enacted in 2010. The external alliance partner in this case was the EU, which ensured Austria had to employ scientific knowledge in its national implementation through its binding Guidelines to the Water Framework Directive.


Ergebnis von Forschung und Integration: der Nationale Gewässerbewirtschaftungsplan

Life Ministry (2009): National Water Management Plan 2009-NGP 2009

Die entsprechende Verordnung dazu

National Water Management Plan Regulation 2009 (NGPV 2009)















Result of research and integration: the National Water Management Plan and associated Regulation

In a proVISION research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Science and Research, we examined seven other such successful cases which empirically verify the FIV model of knowledge transfer. The findings appeared in book form in 2013, entitled “Mit Wissen bewegen” (“Making a Difference with Knowledge”).

Michael Böcher and Max Krott
Georg-August University. Göttingen, Germany


Böcher, Michael/Max Krott (2012): Professionelle Integration als zentraler Baustein zur Qualitätssicherung von Politikberatung. In: Zeitschrift für Politikberatung 5, pp. 13-22.

Life Ministry (2009): National Water Management Plan 2009 – NGP 2009 (BMLFUW-UW.4.1.2/0011-I/4/2010), Wien: BMLFUW.

National Water Management Plan Regulation 2009 (NGPV 2009), Federal Law Gazette II, No. 103/2010, issued on 30 March 2010.