Policy Sciences

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 67–95 | Cite as

The Science–Policy Relationship Hierarchy (SPRHi) model of co-production: how climate science organizations have influenced the policy process in Canadian case studies

  • Garrett Ward RichardsEmail author
Research Article


Can better-functioning science–policy relationships (SPRs) address the seeming discrepancy between the scientific consensus on climate change and the insufficient ensuing policy outcomes? Certain scholarly works on science–policy interfaces and evidence-based policy are optimistic, while the literature on research utilization is pessimistic. The field of science, technology, and society and the concept of co-production advance a broader view, suggesting that more holistic (i.e., institutional or systemic) changes may offer a way forward. This article synthesizes causal claims from such literatures into an analytical framework of potential pathways from co-productive SPR characteristics to policy action. It then investigates, through expert interviews, three climate SPRs in Canada: a municipal-level case between the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium and local communities, a provincial-level case between the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the Climate Action Secretariat, and a national-level case between the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences and the federal government. In light of the analytical framework, the cases suggest a theoretical hierarchy of function for SPRs: incidental interaction (at the bottom), basic partnership, interactive dialogue, and true co-production (at the top), each of which can be coupled with a supplementary network (to the side). This template is presented as the Science–Policy Relationship Hierarchy model. Collectively, the cases and the model reveal causal pathways that may explain why any given SPR ends up functioning the way it does (e.g., external political conditions are important), implying prescriptions for improvement. Besides the analytical framework and model, the main contribution is the finding that co-productive strategies are unlikely to lead to concrete policy changes on their own, but are crucial for cultivating soft policy influences and side benefits.


Adaptation Canada Climate change Co-production Evidence-based policy Research utilization Science–policy interfaces 



Funding was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Victoria.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

The process of recruiting and interviewing participants was approved by the research ethics board of the host university.

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


  1. Albæk, E., Green-Pedersen, C., & Nielsen, L. (2007). Making tobacco consumption a political issue in the United States and Denmark: The dynamics of issue expansion in comparative perspective. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 9(1), 1–20.Google Scholar
  2. Beach, D., & Pedersen, R. (2016). Causal case study methods: Foundations and guidelines for comparing, matching, and tracing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beach, D., Pedersen, R., Møller, J., & Skaaning, S. (2016). Comparative methods, Ch. 7. In D. Beach & R. Pedersen (Eds.), Causal case study methods: Foundations and guidelines for comparing, matching, and tracing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bocking, S. (2009). Defining effective science for Canadian environmental policy leadership. Ch. 5. In D. Van Nijnatten & R. Boardman (Eds.), Canadian environmental policy and politics. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bogner, A., Littig, B., & Menz, W. (2009). Expert interviews—An introduction to a new methodological debate. Ch. 1. In A. Bogner, B. Littig, & W. Menz (Eds.), Interviewing experts. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Bradshaw, G., & Borchers, J. (2000). Uncertainty as information: Narrowing the science–policy gap. Ecology and Society, 4(1). Accessed 16 July 2018.
  7. Brugnach, M., & Ingram, H. (2012). Ambiguity: The challenge of knowing and deciding together. Environmental Science & Policy, 15(1), 60–71.Google Scholar
  8. Burch, S. (2010). Transforming barriers into enablers of action on climate change: Insights from three municipal case studies in British Columbia, Canada. Global Environmental Change, 20(2), 287–297.Google Scholar
  9. Cairney, P., Oliver, K., & Wellstead, A. (2016). To bridge the divide between evidence and policy: Reduce ambiguity as much as uncertainty. Public Administration Review, 76(3), 399–402.Google Scholar
  10. Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2014). Get science right. Accessed June 13, 2014.Google Scholar
  11. Canadian Climate Forum. (2013). Annual report 2012–2013. Ottawa, ON: CCF.Google Scholar
  12. Canadian Climate Forum. (2014). CCF board of directors. Accessed July 11, 2014.
  13. Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. (2001). Annual report 2000–2001. Ottawa, ON: CFCAS.Google Scholar
  14. Cash, D., Clark, W., Alcock, F., Dickson, N., Eckley, N., Guston, D., et al. (2003). Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(14), 8086–8091.Google Scholar
  15. Cash, D., Clark, W., Alcock, F., Dickson, N., Eckley, N., & Jäger, J. (2002). Salience, credibility, legitimacy and boundaries: Linking research, assessment and decision making. Harvard University JFK School of Government faculty research working paper. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  16. Charmaz, K. (2003). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. Ch. 15. In J. Holstein & J. Gubrium (Eds.), Inside interviewing: New lenses, new concerns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  17. Cobb, R., Ross, J., & Ross, M. (1976). Agenda building as a comparative political process. American Political Science Review, 70(1), 126–138.Google Scholar
  18. Coreau, A. (2017). Reflexive strategic action to consolidate a research-NGO partnership during science–policy interactions. Environmental Science and Policy.
  19. Craft, J., & Howlett, M. (2013). Policy capacity and the ability to adapt to climate change: Canadian and U.S. case studies. Review of Policy Research, 30(1), 1–18.Google Scholar
  20. Cuddy, A. (2010). Troubling evidence: The Harper government’s approach to climate science research in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Climate Action Network Canada.Google Scholar
  21. Davies, P. (2004). Is evidence-based government possible? Lecture at the 4th Annual Campbell Collaboration Colloquium. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  22. Daviter, F. (2015). The political use of knowledge in the policy process. Policy Sciences, 48(4), 491–505.Google Scholar
  23. Desveaux, J., Lindquist, E., & Toner, G. (1994). Organizing for policy innovation in public bureaucracy: AIDS, energy and environmental policy in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 27(3), 493–528.Google Scholar
  24. Dexter, L. (1970). Elite and specialized interviewing. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Douglas, H. (2009). Science, policy, and the value-free ideal. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  26. Duncan, R. (2017). Rescaling knowledge and governance and enrolling the future in New Zealand: A co-production analysis of Canterbury’s water management reforms to regulate diffuse pollution. Society and Natural Resources, 30(4), 436–452.Google Scholar
  27. Engel, K. (2009). Whither subnational climate change initiatives in the wake of federal climate legislation? Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 39(3), 432–454.Google Scholar
  28. Feldman, M., & March, J. (1981). Information in organizations as signal and symbol. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26(2), 171–186.Google Scholar
  29. Fischer, M., & Leifeld, P. (2015). Policy forums: Why do they exist and what are they used for? Policy Sciences, 48(3), 363–382.Google Scholar
  30. Fitz-Morris, J., & Tunney, C. (2015). Justin Trudeau promises ‘Canadian approach’ to climate change. CBC News Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  31. Ford, J., Knight, M., & Pearce, T. (2013). Assessing the ‘usability’ of climate change research for decision-making: A case study of the Canadian International Polar Year. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 1317–1326.Google Scholar
  32. Foss, N. (2007). The emerging knowledge governance approach: Challenges and characteristics. Organization, 14(1), 29–52.Google Scholar
  33. Gordon, D. (2016). Lament for a network? Cities and networked climate governance in Canada. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 34(3), 529–545.Google Scholar
  34. Greenwood, C. (2013). Muzzling civil servants: A threat to democracy?. Victoria: Victoria Environmental Law Clinic, University of Victoria, BC.Google Scholar
  35. Guston, D. (2001). Boundary organizations in environmental policy and science: An introduction. Science, Technology and Human Values, 26(4), 399–408.Google Scholar
  36. Harris, K. (2016). Justin Trudeau gives provinces until 2018 to adopt carbon price plan. CBC News Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  37. Harrison, K. (2012). A tale of two taxes: The fate of environmental tax reform in Canada. Review of Policy Research, 29(3), 383–407.Google Scholar
  38. Hays, D., & Singh, A. (2012). Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  39. Hoppe, R. (2005). Rethinking the science–policy nexus: From knowledge utilization and science technology studies to types of boundary arrangements. Poiesis & Praxis, 3(3), 199–215.Google Scholar
  40. Houle, D., Lachapelle, E., & Purdon, M. (2015). Comparative politics of sub-federal cap-and-trade: Implementing the Western Climate Initiative. Global Environmental Politics, 15(3), 49–73.Google Scholar
  41. Howlett, M. (2009). Policy analytical capacity and evidence-based policy-making: Lessons from Canada. Canadian Public Administration, 52(2), 153–175.Google Scholar
  42. Hunt, J., & Shackley, S. (1999). Reconceiving science and policy: Academic, fiducial and bureaucratic knowledge. Minerva, 37(2), 141–164.Google Scholar
  43. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (1990). Climate Change. In J. Houghton, G. Jenkins, & J. Ephraums (Eds.), The IPCC scientific assessment: Report prepared for IPCC by Working Group I. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2013). Principles governing IPCC work. Accessed June 13, 2014.
  45. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Summary for policymakers. In O. Edenhofer, et al. (Eds.), Climate change 2014—Mitigation of climate change: Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. International Energy Agency. (2012). CO 2 emissions from fuel combustion: Highlights. Paris: IEA.Google Scholar
  47. Irwin, A. (2014). From deficit to democracy (re-visited). Public Understanding of Science, 23(1), 71–76.Google Scholar
  48. Jasanoff, S. (1987). Contested boundaries in policy-relevant science. Social Studies of Science, 17(2), 195–230.Google Scholar
  49. Jasanoff, S. (2004). States of knowledge: The co-production of science and the social order. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Kingdon, J. (1984). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Scarborough, ON: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  51. Lachapelle, E., Borick, C., & Rabe, B. (2012). Public attitudes toward climate science and climate policy in federal systems: Canada and the United States compared. Review of Policy Research, 29(3), 334–357.Google Scholar
  52. Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Lemos, M., & Morehouse, B. (2005). The co-production of science and policy in integrated climate assessments. Global Environmental Change, 15(1), 57–68.Google Scholar
  54. Levin, B. (2008). Thinking about knowledge mobilization. Paper prepared for the Canadian Council on Learning and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Toronto, ON.Google Scholar
  55. Liberal Party of Canada. (2016). Climate change. Accessed June 8, 2016.
  56. Likens, G. (2010). The role of science in decision making: does evidence-based science drive environmental policy? Frontiers in Ecology, 8(6). Accessed 16 July 2018.
  57. Lindquist, E. (1988). What do decision models tell us about information use? Knowledge in Society, 1(2), 86–111.Google Scholar
  58. Lindquist, E. (2009). There’s more to policy than alignment. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Policy Research Networks.Google Scholar
  59. Lockyer, S. (2004). Coding qualitative data. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), The Sage encyclopedia of social science research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Macdonald, D. (2009). The failure of Canadian climate change policy: Veto power, absent leadership, and institutional weakness. Ch. 11. In D. Van Nijnatten & R. Boardman (Eds.), Canadian environmental policy and politics: prospects for leadership and innovation (3rd ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Mahoney, J., & Rueschemeyer, D. (2003). Comparative historical analysis: Achievements and agendas. Ch. 1. In J. Mahoney & D. Rueschemeyer (Eds.), Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Mason, G. (2016). How will Trudeau face the fallout from Wall’s opposition to carbon pricing? The Globe and Mail Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  63. McGregor, J. (2015). Justin Trudeau says carbon pricing should be left to the provinces. CBC News Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  64. Mead, L. (2015). Only connect: Why government often ignores research. Policy Sciences, 48(2), 257–272.Google Scholar
  65. Moser, S., & Dilling, L. (2011). Communicating climate change: closing the science–action gap. In J. Dryzek, R. Norgaard, & D. Schlosberg (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of climate change and society. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Nature. (2012). Frozen out: Canada’s government should free its scientists to speak to the press, as its US counterpart has. Editorial in Nature, 483(1), 6.Google Scholar
  67. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. (2011). Long-term trends in global CO2 emissions. In J. Olivier, G. Janssens-Maenhout, J. Peters, & J. Wilson (Eds.), 2011 Report. The Hague: European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.Google Scholar
  68. Newman, J., & Head, B. (2015). Beyond the two communities: a reply to Mead’s ‘Why government often ignores research’. Policy Sciences, 48(3), 383–393.Google Scholar
  69. Newman, J., Perl, A., Wellstead, A., & McNutt, K. (2013). Policy capacity for climate change in Canada’s transportation sector. Review of Policy Research, 30(1), 19–41.Google Scholar
  70. Office of the Attorney General of Canada. (2017a). Report 1—Progress on reducing greenhouse gases—Environment and climate change Canada. 2017 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada. Accessed July 3, 2018.
  71. Office of the Attorney General of Canada. (2017b). Report 2—Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change. 2017 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada. Accessed July 3, 2018.
  72. Office of the Attorney General of Canada. (2018). Perspectives on climate change action in Canada—A collaborative report from auditors general—March 2018. Report to Parliament. Accessed July 3, 2018.
  73. Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium. (2014). 2013–2014 Corporate report. Victoria, BC: PCIC.Google Scholar
  74. Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium. (2015). People. Accessed September 6, 2015.
  75. Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. (2014). PICS staff. Accessed July 11, 2014.
  76. Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. (2015). Research. Accessed September 7, 2015.
  77. Pielke, R., Jr. (2007). The honest broker: Making sense of science in policy and politics. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Rabe, B. (2007). Beyond Kyoto: Climate change policy in multilevel governance systems. Governance, 20(3), 423–444.Google Scholar
  79. Rabe, B. (2016). The durability of carbon cap-and-trade policy. Governance, 29(1), 103–199.Google Scholar
  80. Ragin, C. (2014). The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative strategies. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  81. Real-Dato, J. (2009). Mechanisms of policy change: A proposal for a synthetic explanatory framework. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 11(1), 117–143.Google Scholar
  82. Richards, D. (1996). Elite interviewing: Approaches and pitfalls. Politics, 16(3), 199–204.Google Scholar
  83. Richards, G. (2017). How research–policy partnerships can benefit government: A win–win for evidence-based policy-making. Canadian Public Policy, 43(2), 165–170.Google Scholar
  84. Richards, G., & Carruthers Den Hoed, R. (2018). Seven strategies of climate change science communication for policy change: Combining academic theory with practical evidence from science–policy partnerships in Canada. In W. Filho, E. Manolas, A. Azul, U. Azeiteiro, & H. McGhie (Eds.), Handbook of climate change communication. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  85. Rieti, J. (2018). Doug Ford is officially ending Ontario’s cap-and-trade plan, but what’s next? CBC News Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  86. Rietig, K. (2014). ‘Neutral’ experts? How input of scientific expertise matters in international environmental negotiations. Policy Sciences, 47(2), 141–160.Google Scholar
  87. Sabatier, P. (1988). An advocacy coalition framework of policy change and the role of policy-oriented learning therein. Policy Sciences, 21(2), 129–168.Google Scholar
  88. Sarkki, S., Tinch, R., Niemelä, J., Heink, U., Waylen, K., Timaeus, J., et al. (2015). Adding ‘iterativity’ to the credibility, relevance, legitimacy: A novel scheme to highlight dynamic aspects of science–policy interfaces. Environmental Science & Policy, 54(1), 505–512.Google Scholar
  89. Schmid, J., Knierim, A., & Knuth, U. (2016). Policy-induced innovations networks on climate change adaptation: An ex-post analysis of collaboration success and its influencing factors. Environmental Science & Policy, 56(1), 67–79.Google Scholar
  90. Selin, H., & VanDeveer, S. (2005). Canadian–U.S. environmental cooperation: Climate change networks and regional action. American Review of Canadian Studies, 35(2), 353–378.Google Scholar
  91. Shiekh, M. (2016). Evidence-based policy development: A framework and its application. Policy brief by the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy. Saskatoon, SK: University of Saskatchewan.Google Scholar
  92. Shulha, L., & Cousins, B. (1997). Evaluation use: Theory, research, and practice since 1986. American Journal of Evaluation, 18(3), 195–208.Google Scholar
  93. Spruijt, P., Knol, A., Vasileiadou, E., Devilee, J., Lebret, E., & Petersen, A. (2014). Roles of scientists as policy advisers on complex issues: A literature review. Environmental Science & Policy, 40(1), 16–25.Google Scholar
  94. Star, S., & Griesemer, J. (2016). Institutional ecology, 'translations' and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387–420Google Scholar
  95. Sundqvist, G., Bohlin, I., Hermansen, E., & Yearley, S. (2015). Formalization and separation: A systematic basis for interpreting approaches to summarizing science for climate policy. Social Studies of Science, 45(3), 416–440.Google Scholar
  96. Tasker, J. (2016). Here’s where the provinces stand on carbon prices. CBC News Online. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  97. Tuinstra, W., Hordijk, L., & Kroeze, C. (2006). Moving boundaries in transboundary air pollution co-production of science and policy under the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. Global Environmental Change, 16(4), 349–363.Google Scholar
  98. Turnhout, E., Hisschemöller, M., & Eijsackers, H. (2007). Ecological indicators: Between the two fires of science and policy. Ecological Indicators, 7(2), 215–228.Google Scholar
  99. Van Buuren, A., & Edelenbos, J. (2004). Why is joint knowledge production such a problem? Science and Public Policy, 31(4), 289–299.Google Scholar
  100. Van Kerkhoff, L., & Lebel, L. (2006). Linking knowledge and action for sustainable development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 31(1), 61–91.Google Scholar
  101. Van Kerkhoff, L., & Lebel, L. (2015). Coproductive capacities: Rethinking science–governance relations in a diverse world. Ecology and Society, 20(1). Accessed 16 July 2018.
  102. VanNijnatten, D., & Boardman, R. (2009). Canadian environmental policy and politics: Prospects for leadership and innovation (3rd ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  103. Veselý, A. (2017). Policy advice as policy work: A conceptual framework for multi-level analysis. Policy Sciences, 50(1), 139–154.Google Scholar
  104. Weible, C. (2008). Expert-based information and policy subsystems: A review and synthesis. The Policy Studies Journal, 36(4), 615–635.Google Scholar
  105. Weiss, C. (1977). Research for policy’s sake: The enlightenment function of social research. Policy Analysis, 3(4), 531–545.Google Scholar
  106. Weiss, C. (1980). Knowledge creep and decision accretion. Science Communication, 1(3), 381–404.Google Scholar
  107. White, R. (2010). Climate change in Canada. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  108. Wilensky, H. (1967). Organizational intelligence: Knowledge and policy in government and industry. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  109. Winfield, M. (2009). Policy instruments in Canadian environmental policy. Ch. 4. In D. Van Nijnatten & R. Boardman (Eds.), Canadian environmental policy and politics: Prospects for leadership and innovation (3rd ed.). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  110. Wyborn, C. (2015). Co-productive governance: A relational framework for adaptive governance. Global Environmental Change, 30(1), 56–67.Google Scholar
  111. Wynne, B. (2007). Dazzled by the mirage of influence? STS-SSK in multivalent registers to relevance. Science, Technology and Human Values, 32(4), 491–503.Google Scholar
  112. Yin, R. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  113. Zahariadis, N. (2014). Ambiguity and multiple streams. Ch. 2. In P. Sabatier & C. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations