Blog 03/14/2024

Knowledge that creates the worlds

Actionable knowledge is like a doughnut: your stinging thought goes through it, and only when you take a bite, the world really opens up.

Author: Simo Sarkki, University of Erfurt, Germany; University of Oulu, Finland (

I am a researcher and knowledge production is my business. I used to assess my performance by daily gaze at my citation index, that is supposed to reveal the impact of science. However, such practice is based on a narrow view on what knowledge can be. Alternative view is that knowledge can shape identities, alter behaviors, transform attitudes and maybe even values. How to understand such potential that the knowledge has?

In science-policy interface literature there has been long standing discussions on how to bridge the gap between knowledge and action. One way to do so, is to generate actionable knowledge, which is “not only relevant to the world of practice, but it is the knowledge that people use to create the world” (Chris Argyris. 1993. Knowledge for Action: A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change). This definition suggests that such knowledge can change hearts and minds.

In Coevolvers, one of our focuses is actionable knowledge, which changes practices by breaking habits of how we interact with and in our environments. This is an coevolutionary process. Knowledge is not isolated, but it joins to the universe of commonly accessible pool of symbols that may be used by policy makers, but also societal actors and businesses. To strategically tweak coevolution into desirable directions, also knowledge co-production needs to be strategic.

Coevolvers provides a unique platform for co-producing and enabling actionable knowledge. We identify four different types of communities linked to Coevolvers, with each having varying knowledge needs and leverage points regarding action to create the worlds.

Firstly, we employ a Living Lab approach, meaning that we establish collaborative space to find new solutions to address problems in living environments. This happens with nature-based solutions, innovations on how human-environment interactions can be reorganized for the benefit of both. Coevolvers hopes to boost solutions that address local needs and help gain contextualized local knowledge on habits, vulnerabilities, dependencies and actionable solutions that can be applied also elsewhere.

Secondly, our project structure includes National Consultation Groups, which can act as echo chambers for local nature-based solutions at the national level. Coevolvers not only creates but also shares promising practices with key people, and brings into being an audience or the public to make wider societal impact by testing the tools, knowledge and ideas generated during the project.

Thirdly, we link with our sister projects, funded by the same funding call, TRANS-lighthouses and Naturescapes. This provides a peer audience for stepping up the co-produced knowledge and enables to coordinate policy relevant activities within projects who share similar interests. This offers possibilities for wider knowledge synthesis and also developing “one voice” that derives from assemblage of projects.

Finally, as a EU Horizon project Coevolvers has access to EU policy making infrastructure, where it can provide evidence-based knowledge and decision support tools to boost novel policies. This opens a window to EU level policy making.

The Coevolvers experience shows that knowledge is not one way street, but rather a collective endeavor and resource. It is also a set of opportunities that can be best captured in exchange with other people. As a golden rule, researchers are not pushing the knowledge to policy and society, nor pulling it out from informants. Instead, knowledge co-production should be practiced as an innovative venture to create shared worlds and understanding upon them together.

Coevolution is hard, or even impossible to control and direct. This coevolutionary feature is also present when co-produced knowledge is let out in the wild. In order to leave no one behind from these coevolutionary processes, it becomes important to provide access to knowledge, its production, its utilization, and to its mastering and evaluation of the quality of its use. This is again important in different ways for different social groups. This means not only normal tailoring of your communication for the diverse target audiences. Instead, we as Coevolvers seek to build reciprocal relations between diverse knowledge co-producers, non-human agencies and their living environments included, to find solutions to pressing challenges of today and tomorrow. This can balance the inequalities underpinning the ways by which the world is constantly being recreated. 

Simo Sarkki. Photo: Mariann Kovacs, ESSRG