Topic of the year

When science meets action

Topic of the year

Photo by: Peter Messerli

When it comes to solving complex and interconnected challenges involving nature and people, science and practice often work in parallel. Although they may share the same goals, there are few occasions when these two very different, yet complementary, domains cross paths. Over the past three years, the Wyss Academy for Nature has worked to enable, promote, nurture, and support the interconnection between science and action. The organization has also promoted an inclusive approach, opening dialogues with policymakers, empowering stakeholders, and encouraging them to co-create solutions and collaborate in ways that previously seemed inconceivable due to conflicting needs and unique points of view.

In 2022 in particular, the Wyss Academy made great strides in achieving its mission. New experts joined the Research & Innovation teams on four continents. Additional challenges were identified, and practical approaches to address them were designed, based on knowledge that is available beyond scientific literature and textbooks. Researchers and innovators jointly went on field missions and learned from local communities. During these immersions, they were able to gather information from external partners, discover cultural particularities, and familiarize themselves with the details of local regulations.

Combining different types of knowledge

It is critical for the Wyss Academy to be present on the ground, and to learn and act alongside local communities. Together, practice and science determine the quality of the designed interventions. In its inter- and transdisciplinary approach, the Wyss Academy combines three different types of expertise: systems knowledge, target knowledge, and transformation knowledge.

Systems knowledge can be roughly described as the scientific understanding and evidence of how humans interact with nature and vice versa. For example, the information on how rainfall patterns in Kenya’s semi-arid landscapes will develop under climate change, affecting the availability of pastures and thus the livelihood options of pastoral communities. Systems knowledge enables us to explore opportunities for change and identify innovative solutions.  

Target knowledge, on the other hand, means talking to people, capturing first-hand all the different stakeholders’ claims as well as their hopes and wishes for the future. It also means transforming these ideas into a shared vision, so that actions can be designed in accordance with how people expect their lives, and those of future generations, to be.

Transformation knowledge, finally, guides the implementation of changes and enables improvements to come to life. The main goal is to explore different levers of change with focus and purpose, in order to grant the best set of conditions to achieve concrete impacts for people and nature.

The key to transformation

“We, at the Wyss Academy for Nature, believe that innovation is not a miracle solution or one isolated activity. We should bring different cogwheels into clockworks, that allow systems to change,” says Dr. Peter Messerli, Director of the Wyss Academy for Nature and Professor for Sustainable Development. “We also need to know the purpose of system transformation. If we don’t have a goal, we just change things without knowing where we’re headed. That is why it’s so important for people and stakeholders to have a shared vision. And we want it to be based on knowledge, not ideology. It should be jointly discussed and ethical. Finally, we need robust monitoring and evaluation, so we can learn from unexpected side effects and possible failures, and adapt,” adds Messerli.

In 2023, the Wyss Academy for Nature continues its path of transformation and positive systemic change, bridging science and action, and ultimately bringing benefits to communities and nature.

Read the interview with our director and learn more about what inspires work inside the Wyss Academy for Nature.



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