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 relevant, 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. 

Energy, Climate & Health - Kathy Fallon Lambert, Senior Advisor at the Center of Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will share a framework and program that includes front-end stakeholder engagement, scaled co-production of research and synthesis, and science communication to generate and apply policy-relevant science regionally and nationally. She will use specific policy examples at the nexus of climate, air quality, and health to demonstrate pivotal boundaries spanning roles and activities in academia and how they differ from the translational and advocacy work of environmental non-profits. She will present insights from a regional multi-institutional science policy network in the Northeast and share an engagement framework for boundary spanner practitioners that draws from both engagement theory and front-line practice.

Small-Scale Fisheries – John Virdin, Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University, will share a boundary spanning example from fisheries management where partners are working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on a three-year global assessment of small-scale fisheries contributions to sustainable development, to provide evidence for increased policy support around the globe. A partnership with FAO and the WorldFish Center will collect and analyze data on small-scale fisheries from 50 countries around the world.

Planetary Health – Deb Gallagher, Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment and Lydia Olander, Director of Ecosystem Services Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University, will highlight a highlight a partnership that brings together the academic, public, and private sectors in global health. The partners are working with the United Nations Global Compact (Compact) through the platform, “Health is Everyone’s Business,” which emphasizes corporate leadership on SDG 3, Good Health and Wellbeing. They analyzed business impacts on planetary health and interviewed Compact members to develop guidance on how to address the dual challenges of global health and climate change through business leadership.

Sustainable Development - Melody Brown Burkins, Associate Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, Governing Board Member of the International Science Council, and Chair of the U.S. National Academies’ Board on International Scientific Organizations (BISO), will share examples of boundary spanning through the practice of international science diplomacy and the training of next-generation science diplomacy leaders, emphasizing the importance of inclusion and equity. She is driven by the importance of how we can more intentionally advance inclusive science diplomacy around the world - from designing equitable and effective global science collaborations to ensuring the best scientific evidence informs the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Her interest in the training of next-generation leaders in this boundary-spanning space includes not only educating students and early career researchers (ECRs) about growing opportunities for science diplomacy through global networks and funding opportunities, but also working to ensure next-generation leaders prioritize inclusion through respect of local knowledge, practicing knowledge reciprocity, supporting community engagement, advancing gender equity, and actively seeking and engaging the input of underrepresented groups in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math. These boundary spanning skills for inclusion and equity are rarely, if ever, covered in undergraduate, graduate, or ECR programs, yet all are critical to the future of effective and impactful science that truly serves and informs our global society.


  • 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
  • Lydia Olander, Director, Ecosystem Services Program, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University
  • Melody Brown Burkins, Associate Director, Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College