Future Earth, co-production and the experimental life of a global institution
Eleanor Hadley Kershaw
Future Earth is an international research initiative on global environmental change (GEC) and sustainability that was launched in 2012 and became fully operational in 2015, merging and reconfiguring several existing international GEC research programmes. In its emphasis on co-design and co-production of relevant knowledge, it exemplifies calls for transformations in research institutions, communities, cultures and practices towards engagement with non-academic stakeholders. However, we do not yet know how this transformation might be enacted in practice in a concrete programme for the governance, coordination and production of new GEC research at global to local scale; what are constructive ways of understanding this initiative and others like it? Drawing on a qualitative case study of Future Earth conducted between 2013 and 2015, this chapter explores ambiguities in Future Earth’s institutional identity, remit and function – and between different understandings of co-production within it. Six tensions in Future Earth’s roles/remit and three understandings of co-production are considered in relation to two potential institutional models for Future Earth: a (monstrous) Leviathan and a hybrid network. Although these ambiguities are seen as problematic by some, I argue that, in viewing Future Earth as an ongoing experiment, ambiguity makes space for conversation and negotiation, enabling openness and flexibility.