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Seven steps to improve collaboration

The first Guidelines article published in Sustainable Earth summarises the outcomes of the Horizon 2020 project 'CARISMA', outlining seven ways that policy makers, funding agencies, and researchers can collaborate more effectively to improve climate change mitigation.

Dec 17, 2018
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Of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN, ‘Partnerships for the Goals’ is possibly one of the most important as it encapsulates all of the other objectives by connecting people, disciplines, and ideas in innovative ways to address the greatest challenges faced by modern society. However, this Goal is most often addressed through the practice of collaboration; comprehensive theoretical investigations into the way we collaborate and how this might be improved are relatively rare.


Members of the Horizon 2020 CARISMA project have attempted to stipulate the theory behind collaboration, by holding workshops with science-policy practitioners to discuss their experiences of partnership in the context of climate change mitigation. These outcomes from the CARISMA project have been published in a Guidelines article in Sustainable Earth (the first of its kind in this journal). Guidelines articles aim to address aspects of policy within the field of sustainability and provide direct advice to guide others in similar circumstances. The article outlines seven ways in which collaborative knowledge production can be improved to benefit climate change mitigation:

1. Know the researcher’s role
Having clearly defined roles in a working research or policy group is important. It is better to have a team with separate roles performed by individuals rather than having each person perform multiple roles.

2. Work with policy dynamics
Setting an agenda for knowledge production is about more than just identifying a policy that needs to be informed or changed. The timing of the decision-making process should also inform the timing of the agenda.

3. Use alternative communication means
Instead of restricting communication to the research and policy groups directly involved, the inclusion of science journalists and social influencers can help make the collaboration process more accessible to a wider audience.

4. Allow for flexibility in projects’ deliverables and milestones
Being solely driven by predetermined project milestones can rush the collaboration process and cause key innovations to be overlooked. The funders, coordinators, and researchers involved in the process should cooperate to adapt to the differing priorities or timing capabilities of all stakeholders.

5. Be realistic about the possibility of stakeholder engagement
The expectations of all stakeholders need to be managed, especially where time investment is concerned. Care should be taken to ensure that both researchers and policymakers are willing to commit time to the collaboration and that the process is rewarding for all parties.

6. Adjust funding criteria
Funding bodies should favour projects that can guarantee a collaborative process in addition to their outcomes being impactful or significantly advancing the field. They could make this a criterion for funding and set aside a budget for financing small joint projects.

7. Invest in stable knowledge infrastructures
Investing in more people to work directly at the science-policy interface is essential for enabling and maintaining long-term collaborative projects.

Although these seven steps originated in the context of climate change policy, they mainly relate to the people involved and the structure that supports them. Therefore, they are widely applicable to any collaborative working process.
Further details of the intricacies of these seven steps as well as the discussion process that led to their formation can be found in the full article, which is an extension of a preliminary CARISMA project report.

By Chris McEntee, Senior Journal Development Editor, BMC/ Sustainable Earth

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Chris McEntee

Senior Journal Development Editor, BMC

Chris is a Senior Journal Development Editor for environmental and sustainability sciences. In this role he leads on the development of open access journals in this subject area. As a member of Springer Nature’s Grand Challenges Advisory Board, he helps drive the publisher’s response to the biggest challenges faced by society, through innovative research and practice. Chris has an MSci in Marine Biology from the University of Southampton and has worked at Springer Nature since 2015, both experiences which have drawn upon and reinforced his passion for research with real-world impact.

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