At the Crossroads of Nexus Research and Practice

  • 2016/12/16     Bonn, Germany

    Image: istock/FabioFilzi

    Image: istock/FabioFilzi

    Think piece by Kristin Meyer, Capacity Development and Governance

    Resource security can only be achieved where interdependent sectors work together towards solving conflicts of resource use. International development cooperation that takes advantage of research on the Nexus Approach can support dialogue and governance frameworks that promote sustainable development.

    Yet, a focus on planning and implementation alone will often not produce the best results. The implementation of the nexus concept is ultimately a question of governance.

    Politics greatly influences laws, policies, and strategies. Thus, the nexus must be understood within the broader political context applied at various levels of decision-making.

    Case studies
    have been identified as important tools to illustrate synergies, conflicts, power asymmetries, and externalities that drive nexus thinking and ultimately support or hamper the application of the Nexus Approach. This appreciation of the value of real-world examples formed the basis for discussions of a workshop on “Nexus Research Meets Nexus Practice” held in Bonn on 21 November 2016. Organised by the German Development Institute (DIE) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), representatives from several German ministries, researchers and practitioners, who work on issues related to the water, energy, and/or food/agricultural sectors participated in the workshop on invitation.

    Influences of research and practice on decision-making. Image: Schut et al. 2013

    Influences of research and practice on decision-making. (Image: Schut et al. 2013)

    The workshop explored in how far the Nexus Approach can support problem-solving by facilitating policy coherence and adequate governance frameworks. While taking stock of current projects and cases illustrative of the Nexus Approach in practice, participants deliberated how scientific results can be made available for international development cooperation. Joining the workshop, I, too had the opportunity to discuss challenges of nexus implementation and governance, including the science-policy interface.

    Often isolated incidences of cooperation between sector policies competing for the same environmental resources pose the greatest challenge to the detriment of sustainability.

    The Capacity Development and Governance unit at UNU-FLORES is carrying out research on how to strengthen the science-policy interface through regional cooperation. At a global level, this includes the promotion of and alignment with Agenda 2030. On the one hand, the interdependent nature of the Sustainable Development Goals accentuates conflicts over the competing use of environmental resources. On the other, they also facilitate debates about maximising synergies among various sectors towards nexus solutions.

    Having said that, one barrier to achieving the operationalisation of the nexus depends on who is sitting around the table. The definition of the Nexus Approach does not always align in research and practice. Dialogue, a focus on governance, as well as international legal frameworks and standards advance the nexus debate, which is of particular importance in relation to transboundary challenges. Presentations at the workshop considered a number of incentive frameworks to embed nexus thinking at national and local levels – these could be economic, social, and/or environmental in nature.

    Workshops, such as this one, provide a platform for continuous dialogue and knowledge exchange, for challenging our own and each other’s assumptions and furthering approximation between science and policy, politics, research, and practice, and between various sectors.


    Schut, M., A. van Paassen, and C. Leeuwis. 2013. “Beyond the research-policy interface. Boundary arrangements at research-stakeholder interfaces in the policy debate on biofuel sustainability in Mozambique.” Environmental Science and Policy 27:91–102.

    Further Reading

    Kurian, Mathew, Mario Suardi and Reza Ardakanian. 2016. Nexus Planning Primer: Lessons from Case Studies. Dresden: UNU-FLORES.

    Kurian, Mathew, Reza Ardakanian, Linda Gonçalves Veiga and Kristin Meyer. 2016. Resources, Services and Risks: How Can Data Observatories Bridge the Science-Policy Divide in Environmental Governance? Springer.