Public engagement in sustainability science

We recognize that the history of public engagement in sustainability science goes back to agricultural extension services in the aftermath of the Irish famine when change agents attempted to persuade potato farmers about the role of agricultural biodiversity to increase resilience of food and agricultural systems. Public engagement in the twenty-first century is an applied field of knowledge translation and exchange, also called knowledge mobilization in some quarters. Conventionally downstream engagement in science and technology involves citizen panels and consensus conferences to assess technologies that are already available.

New ways of public engagement involve co-design of research, co-production of knowledge from research as well as practice, and co-delivery of knowledge and innovation services to those who are in great need, including the development of their capability for self-determination. These research and development processes, recognized as participatory action research in some quarters, push public engagement further upstream to research priority setting and implementation.

This stream of work demonstrates the value of participatory action research in crossing conventional boundaries of the two seemingly unrelated fields of human capability development – competence development through science literacy and education, and capacity development through extension. Thus, we aim to redefine science literacy, education, and extension within the rubric of sustainability science communication, socio-technical innovation, and sustainability transitions.

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