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Final Report Summary - S4S (Science for Society Solutions (S4S): Bringing Translational Science for Drylands Earth and Environmental Sciences into the Mainstream)

Science for Society Solutions (S4S): Bringing Translational Science for Drylands Earth and Environmental Sciences into the Mainstream

S4S Goal and objectives
The premise behind the Science for Society Solutions (S4S) project is based on the reality that science only makes an impact if it is used, and the most effective way to get science used is to engage stakeholders. This is of great concern in the Earth and environmental sciences community, where -- by any measure -- efforts to avoid, reduce or reverse environmental degradation have failed to keep pace with environmental change, despite extraordinary advances in scientific discovery. Drylands, which represent 40% of the world’s land surface and 30% of its population, are particularly vulnerable to social and climatic change, as they are home to the poorest and most marginalized people in the world (16% living in chronic poverty). Recognizing that the tools and expertise necessary to narrow the science-practice gap exist, S4S set out to facilitate the broader impact of drylands Earth and environmental science by mainstreaming proven participatory approaches to stakeholder engagement via four highly interdependent objectives:
A. Identify patterns of success, including state-of-the-art approaches and barriers overcome, among partners in academic initiatives, strategic public endeavors, and private enterprises in the promotion of scientific literacy and the successful practice of public engagement in the Earth and environmental sciences of drylands.
B. Enhance collaboration and the sharing of best practices among the diverse groups of people involved in the dryland Earth and environmental sector innovation ecosystem.
C. Facilitate the diffusion of innovation and broader adoption of these state-of-the-art approaches in both the dryland Earth and environmental scientific community and the broader innovation ecosystem.
D. Evaluate the impact of the S4S approach in a formative and participatory manner in order to modify wiki content, training materials and the mechanisms employed to encourage diffusion of innovation.

S4S Approach and activities
Establishing the foundation for the S4S approach has involved identifying (and then communicating) why the most common approaches to communicating and disseminating science (which tend to be unidirectional, teacher/researcher-centered and focused on subjective norms such as social pressure and social trends) have limited impact, and why participatory, engagement-based approaches (which are bi-directional, learner/user-centered and focused on interests/personal relevance) have the potential to make a difference. A review of the state-of-the-art, which was expanded to obtain lessons from the business, education and decision science sectors, revealed that effective stakeholder engagement leads to relevance, which leads to involvement, which leads to decisions and action. Moreover, without engagement, irrespective of the approach, adoption is much less likely. The state-of-the-art review was then expanded to identifying the concepts and tools behind successful translational science. This scientific literature scan also helped identify experts in participatory research and stakeholder engagement who want to help make science more relevant and responsive to society (the community of practice - CoP), as well as Earth and environmental scientists seeking to narrow the gap between their research and solutions to the serious challenges society faces under rapidly changing environmental conditions (the community of interest - CoI). Throughout the life of the project, interested members of these communities have been engaged in the iterative and formative co-creation of an online wiki platform called “Tools for Participatory Science” ( Content contributors (CoP) and early-adopter content users (CoI) have enhanced the structure, functionality and modularity of the wiki, which has recently completed its third co-design iteration. This has been made possible by series of engagement activities (workshops, training, and dissemination events) strategically interlinked to help build an informal network of scientists (both CoP and CoI) as well as practitioners (government, non-government, SMEs). This network has not only helped develop and populate the wiki, but also contributed to a customer, market and value-proposition assessment process in support of a business planning exercise designed to ensure the long-term sustainability of the vision of S4S.

Main results
The results of the state-of-the-art review provided the content necessary for lectures, presentations, workshops and training events that have been central to establishing a network of CoP and CoI members interested in mainstreaming translation science for achieving a greater societal impact from environmental research. S4S participation in strategically selected events was critical to reaching over 300 participatory researchers (CoP) and almost 900 environmental scientists (CoI); just over of 100 of each group actively contributed to the iterative and formative co-creation of the core product of the S4S project, the “Tools for Participatory Science” wiki ( The ties in this network have been strengthened through both targeted (for their potential as critical nodes) and referral-identified events, each selected with the aim of promoting the depth of contact (participant overlap), the extent of geographic scope (pursuing a nested hierarchically: Spain, Europe, International, Global), and the potential for interfacing among CoP and CoI members. The S4S project has raised the visibility of participatory, stakeholder engagement approaches in the environmental scientific community (e.g., Society of Ecological Restoration (SER), the European Geosciences Union (EGU) and Adaptation Futures 2016), demonstrated to SMEs how the same methods are fundamental to startup acceleration and agile development, and influenced global policy development of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Several of these interactions have led to peer-reviewed publications in addition to the educational content being added to the wiki. The formative evaluation revealed the demand for more effective methods for ensuring the societal impact of science was high enough to consider a spinoff from the project. A preliminary economic and situational analysis made clear that the value proposition of any long-term strategy designed maximize the objectives of S4S could be viable with the correct mix of translational science-based products and services and that this could be sufficient to ensure the long term viability of a spinoff from this project.

Impact and Use
The response of the scientific community to S4S in Spain has been exceptional. For example, following inquiries received following an invited lecture, the regional network of universities in the Valencian region of Spain (RUVID) ran a feature on S4S. Exposure to the larger scientific community is exemplified by the success of EGU 2015. Seeking to expose more of their 12,000 participants to the human dimension of Earth science, the EGU welcomed 50 oral and poster presentations and an interactive town hall on the highest traffic day of the conference. The papers presented are part of a Journal of Environmental Management special issue co-edited by S4S. Our effort to recruit innovative environmental startups to share the value of participatory methods in both their acceleration methods and to enhance their potential to collaborate on environmental research grant proposals was rewarded which 45 Green Economy SMEs attended a session dedicated to their economic competitiveness organized by S4S. The most significant wider societal implications of the project occurred when we successfully incorporated participatory approaches structurally into the scientific conceptual framework for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) (researcher Orr is co-lead author). This new paradigm has now been adopted by 102 of the 194 signatory nations of the UNCCD.

Contact details
Barron Joseph Orr, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Arizona (home) and University of Alicante (host)
Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alicante
Carretera de San Vicente s/n
03690 - San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante, Spain
Project wiki:
Email: | Tel: +34 625441984

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