Research articles

Co-constructing knowledge to transform interfaces with ocean decision-making


The European Union has identified an urgent need for sustainable ocean management, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water.’ Despite progress in international agreements like the UN High Seas Treaty and the Global Biodiversity Framework, a significant gap remains in the effective translation of ocean science and data into actionable, evidence-based policies. This is where the International Panel for Ocean Sustainability (IPOS) comes into play. Supported by a growing alliance of marine science institutions and nations, IPOS aims to fill this gap (check here). A landmark in its development was the August 2023 release of the IPOS Seascape Assessment by the European Commission. The assessment underscored that current Global Environmental Assessments, such as the IPCC, IPBES, and World Ocean Assessment (among others), lack a unified, continuous flow of evidence to guide sustainable ocean governance. Decision-makers are left with fragmented pieces of ocean knowledge, making it difficult to address evolving challenges coherently.

This issue was tackled head-on in a recent paper (check here) stemming from a collaborative workshop held in March 2023 at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (check here). Authored by ERC Tradition and a diverse team of global researchers and policy partners, the paper outlines IPOS’s mission, vision, and six foundational dimensions—referred to as IPOS Identification Cards. These dimensions aim to transform the traditional “science to policy” frameworks into more inclusive “Knowledge and Decision-Making Interfaces” (or “Ocean Interfaces”; Figure 1).   IPOS is designed to enhance ocean knowledge, diplomacy, and literacy, with the ultimate goal of creating a secure and sustainably managed ocean. The initiative seeks to unite a broad range of stakeholders, build a comprehensive knowledge base, encourage dialogue between science, policy, and society, and guide decisions for the well-being of all species and future human generations.

The Six Design Features for IPOS: ID Cards

1. Diversifying Ocean Knowledge Systems

The first dimension calls for the inclusion of diverse knowledge systems, from indigenous wisdom to scientific data. This is crucial for a more holistic understanding of ocean ecosystems and their governance.

2. Widening Methods for Ocean Knowledge Production

Traditional methods often limit our understanding of the ocean’s complexities. This dimension advocates for the use of various methodologies, from quantitative analyses to qualitative insights, to produce a more comprehensive body of knowledge.

3. Informing Decision-Making

The third dimension focuses on how the knowledge produced can be effectively used to inform policy and decision-making, ensuring that the information is not just accumulated but also understood, and implemented.

4. Engaging at Knowledge and Decision-Making Interfaces

This is where the transformation happens. Moving away from the “science to policy” model, this dimension emphasizes the need for a pluralistic approach that includes various stakeholders in the decision-making process.

5. Communicating, Learning, Sharing Knowledge

Effective governance is impossible without effective learning and communication. This dimension focuses on the mechanisms for sharing knowledge, from academic publications to community outreach programs.

6. Measuring Progress and Evaluating Success

The final dimension provides the metrics and tools for assessing the effectiveness of transformative strategies, enabling the panel’s efforts to lead to tangible improvements in ocean health and sustainability.

Figure 1: A new ocean mechanism weaving together diverse knowledge systems through six foundational dimensions to inform action across ocean interfaces.

The Synergy of the Six Dimensions and Ocean Knowledge Interfaces

The six dimensions are not standalone but interconnected facets that collectively contribute to the transformation of traditional interfaces into “Knowledge and Decision-Making Interfaces.” For instance, diversifying knowledge systems (Dimension 1) naturally leads to a wider range of methods for knowledge production (Dimension 2), which in turn better informs decision-making (Dimension 3). This interconnected approach ensures a more comprehensive and inclusive model for the adoption of a multiple-evidence approach to transforming Ocean Interfaces.

As IPOS continues to evolve, these six dimensions should serve as its guiding principles. They will shape its collaborations, initiatives, and most importantly, its approach to ocean governance. The focus will be on creating a governance model that is not just effective but also equitable, ensuring the well-being of all species and future human generations.

The “Bridging Shades of Blue” workshop has set a new course for ocean governance, one that is rooted in inclusivity, diversity, and effectiveness. The six dimensions or ID cards offer a roadmap for this journey, providing the framework for transforming ocean interfaces. As we look forward to the 3rd UN Ocean Conference in 2025, these dimensions offer a promising route to a more sustainable and inclusive future for our oceans.