Sustainability science scaffolding

November 23rd, 2021

Backwaters of the River Murray above Lock 1 at Murbpook Lagoon, SA. September 2007.

Project duration

October 2021 – June 2025

The challenge

Sustainability challenges are contested, and involve technical, social, economic, cultural and political elements that can interact and feed back on each other. There is growing evidence that scientists need to operate in new ways to effectively contribute to addressing sustainability challenges. Beyond producing new knowledge, science needs to link diverse knowledge systems to enable action.  Decision makers who drive innovation and investment are increasingly looking to this sort of science that builds legitimate and credible measures and indicators of success by connecting knowledge from multiple disciplines, sectors, communities and cultures.

Our response

This project provides methodological scaffolding to ensure the FSP builds capability to link scientific, Indigenous, and local knowledge, to create collective learning and insight needed to drive sustainability, through markets and other decision contexts.  It contributes to a growing area of sustainability science that is enabling improved outcomes by linking scientific and community knowledge, through embracing and shifting the complex and dynamic factors that structure decision, action, investment and innovation across supply chains. 

The project will work, firstly, to support other projects in the FSP to develop context-appropriate methods that extend our ability to work with diverse stakeholders. Secondly, it will test which approaches work where and why, in order to develop a diagnostic approaches to ensuring our science can support sustainability outcomes and transitions.


There are many approaches to drive sustainability outcomes in ways that link science and technology with social values, policy, and investment. The question is which approaches are best suited to which situations? By targeting approaches diagnostically, in ways that are fit-for-context, CSIRO and our partners hope to be able to catalyse equitable and efficient transitions to a more sustainable future. For example, the approaches developed in this project could enable regions and industries to transition towards addressing multiple sustainability goals simultaneously, driving technological and other forms of societal change and development through common purpose.

The project contributes two main things that have significant potential in contemporary efforts to shift the dial on how sustainability science can drive outcomes, especially through:

  1. Defining ways for CSIRO to move beyond being a science delivery agency in the sustainability space, to being an integral partner and broker of legitimate and credible future pathways for sustainability options and transitions
  2. Building capability to accommodate more diverse knowledge systems within processes, institutional arrangements, and data infrastructure, giving rise to new tools and methods for inclusive sustainability science.


CSIRO: Peat Leith (Project and Co-Production lead, A&F), Emma Ligtermoet (Postdoctoral Fellow, A&F), Andy Hall (Innovation of Sustainability Lead, A&F), Stephen Wan (Computational Linguistic Lead, Data61), Cathy Robinson (L&W), Becky Schmidt (L&W), Zaynel Sushil (A&F),