How might sustainability ‘knowledge’ be created and shared so that ‘evidence-based decision making’ can happen?

January 10th, 2022

Imagining knowledge systems of the future

Project duration

February 2022 to June 2025

The challenge

Digital technology is generating data in ever greater quantities, yet in many cases individuals and communities still lack the knowledge or incentives they require to inform sustainability decision-making and act accordingly. We know there to be many barriers that prevent data from being shared and accessed widely and major challenges in integrating the information and knowledge obtained from such data. Moreover, we see many cases wherein the absence of data and analytical transparency, access, and literacy, contribute to exacerbate power imbalances and many groups are left out and/or adversely affected.

Data is but one contributor to knowledge, which is created through inherently social processes of sharing, learning, re-framing and understanding. Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource and land managers are demanding knowledge developed from multiple sources and in different ways to support credible and legitimate evidence-based sustainability action on pathways toward now necessary and urgent sustainability transitions.

Our project challenge is to understand and analyse some of these dynamics so that we can move beyond data collection foci to co-producing coherent, cohesive, and purposeful knowledge in varying forms. To consider the world-views of different knowledge system stakeholders, and ultimately sustainability decision-makers.

Our response

This project will consider how institutions investing in sustainability transitions shape how data is shared and knowledge is created. This approach results in a normative shift away from a focus on knowledge types, such as local and/or scientific knowledge towards an action-oriented view of knowledge centred on ‘ways of knowing’ and knowledge practices associated with resource management and use. An example of this is how we will consider the economic aspects of private property and common pool resources – or rival and club goods – that apply to data, information, and knowledge governance in the present.

Using a mixed methods approach, we will address challenges by integrating strong conceptual and computational capabilities.

Our conceptual capability will be used to investigate what institutions, practices, behaviours and systems govern the development, translation and spread of knowledge within its systemic context? How do current institutional arrangement, with a focus on (the intermediaries that broker them) operate? Could they be improved in terms of appropriate information access and equity, co-creation and/or opportunities for innovation? The first component of this work will consider how the pool of sustainability knowledge has evolved over time and the ways in which historical norms, systems and structures have given rise to current system functioning. This will cover a range of different sustainability domains, likely to include land-sector carbon sequestration, soil health and function, biodiversity, and local provenance for example.

Our computational capability will be used to investigate how ‘digital transformation’ and the convergence advanced technologies contribute to current institutional arrangements functioning, and therefore practices of data sharing and knowledge creation.

This second strand of work applies a more quantitative approach to investigate institutional mechanism design for sustainability knowledge commons, which could be anything from creative commons licenses through data markets, cooperatives or blockchains.


Our research question interrogation aims to ensure we can link data, information, knowledge, decision-making and practice effectively and in diverse contexts, in particular through well-targeted institutional design into the future.

This project will underpin future efforts to build fit-for-purpose knowledge infrastructure with sectors of Australian society as it evolves, considering economic, environmental, and social challenges we are both aware of and that emerge. Including social and institutional analysis maximize the chances that our investments in data and information result in qualitatively useful, and adoptable, sustainability knowledge ‘services’. Our ambition is that by partnering with international colleagues working in this space we are also able to build a coalition to further the valuing of diversity within knowledge systems, in a similar manner to the current recognition of diverse individuals contributing to positive outcomes in terms of innovation. Such efforts are relevant across the globe as all nations face converging economic and environmental crises.

We simultaneously seek to deliver actionable guidance so that other efforts within this FSP can meet their impact objectives with an understanding of how to bridge projects’ outcomes and emerging governance structures to maximize the actual value accrued by sustainability-oriented decision-making.

This project will underpin future efforts to build knowledge infrastructure, including social and institutional features, that ensure our investments in data and information result in usable knowledge across knowledge systems.


CSIRO Simon Fielke (L&W) & Cara Stitzlein (Data61) [Project Leaders], Gillian Cornish (L&W) & Bernardo Cantone (Data61) [Postdoctoral Fellows], Aysha Fleming (L&W) , David Evans (Data61), Andrew Reeson (Data61), Katie Ricketts (A&F)