E2: Improving Environmental Decision-Making through Boundary Spanning Partnerships

Complex environmental problems are best addressed by policies that are grounded in science and offer practical pathways to implementation. Boundary spanning at the science-society interface describes the theory and practice of constructing systems of knowledge exchange to help address “wicked” problems such as energy and climate change, sustainable development, fisheries management, and global health. 

In recent decades, major shifts have occurred in the role of boundary spanning practices in academic institutions from “add-on” activities that fall in the service category of academic advancement to activities that are increasingly part of researchers’ core programs to activities that shape research on the front-end. Such programs often also involve co-production to increase the relevance, uptake, and impact of science in decision-making. Alongside these developments, boundary spanning practitioners in academic and research institutions (and those advocating for boundary spanning practices) are drawing from both theory and practice to develop frameworks for building the institutional culture and capacity for linking science with environmental decision-making. These frameworks apply to programs for training the next generation of scientists, embedding public engagement into the cultures of research institutions, and designing strategies for front-line interactions with decision-makers at scales ranging from city decision-making to international diplomacy. 

In this session, boundary spanning professionals who work in academia explore the evolution of boundary spanning practices and roles within the academic settings and articulate the emergence of new frameworks and scholarship to guide evidence-based practices inside the classroom. Experts from Harvard University, Duke University, and Dartmouth College will discuss ongoing boundary spanning efforts to develop policy solutions to address critical sustainability challenges. Presenters will discuss the science and policy frameworks they draw upon and provide a narrative of their partnership.


  • Kathy Fallon Lambert, Senior Advisor, Center of Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • John Virdin, Director, Ocean and Coastal Policy Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University
  • Deb Gallagher, Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
  • Melody Brown Burkins, Associate Director, Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College