Blog post

Next generation environmental experts

Published on
March 18, 2019

What started with one girl – Greta Thunberg – deciding to skip school to strike for the climate in August 2018, has now grown to a global movement of school children and students that says enough is enough, that it is long overdue that policymakers start to take action in relation to the climate crises we are in.

On the 15th of March, more than 2000 strikes were organized as part of this movement, in no less than 120 countries across all continents. The next generation has taken to the streets to fight for their future. This by demanding that the world’s leaders should follow the Paris Agreement and the IPCC report, stay below a 1,5°C temperature rise, and focus on the aspect of equity and climate justice stated throughout the Paris Agreement.
“Because no manifesto can be more radical than that. Unite behind the science.” ~ Greta Thunberg,
But, if we turn to science itself, if we look at the organizations which are producing these assessments and reports on the collective scientific knowledge about today’s environmental crises, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, where do we then see the next generation? How do these organizations socialize and introduce early career experts in their work? What role does the next generation of experts play in these organizations today? In the project Becoming an expert I ask these questions, and more.
The project explores the production of expertise in expert organizations by focusing on the roles of early-career experts in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The project is guided by four questions: (i) how expertise is defined and epistemic authority created, (ii) how early-career scholars are socialized into experts, (iii) how experts gather, assess, and communicate policy-relevant knowledge, and (iv) how institutional opportunities and obstacles in the socialization process should be understood, managed, and used.
The project explores the differences between the two organizations’ strategies. While IPBES offers a fellowship program to build capacity and introduces early-career experts into the organization, IPCC does not. IPCC has instead adopted a practice of enrolling early-career scholars in an assisting role in which these scholars learn about the organization by working with important tasks such as cross-checking between findings presented in different parts of the report, reference management, and assistance with figures and tables.
The project has so far shown how the organizational preconditions play an important role in the constitution of what is seen as expertise in these organizations. The project has also shown how elements of formality and informality in the socialization impact the outcome of the process, and how the socialization process is of importance in that it offers an opportunity for the IPCC and IPBES to work towards either institutional continuity or change.
By reproducing norms and practices the socialization process creates continuity between expert generations and stability within the organization. But, the socialization process also offers an opportunity for institutional change by implementing new practices, norms, and procedures. Throughout the socializing process, the choice of working for continuity or change is constantly present, either explicitly or implicitly and this choice has an impact on the organization’s present and future way of operating. Thus, the question of who has control over the content of the socialization is not only a question of who controls the early-career experts’ different personal experiences of IPCC and IPBES. The question of who controls the content of the socialization process is also the question of who controls the institutionalization of the organization, the future development of the organization and the work process.
But many questions remain to be answered. For example, the question of what this future organizational development will be, and what impact it will have on IPCC and IPBES’s future work. How will the next generation of experts contribute to the present and future production of policy-relevant knowledge for a sustainable future? - By Karin Gufstafsson

Gustafsson, Karin M. (2018). Producing expertise. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services’ socialization of young scholars. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences. 15(1), 21-39.

Gustafsson, Karin M., & Lidskog Rolf. (2018). Organizing International Experts. IPBES’s efforts to gain epistemic authority. Environmental Sociology. 4:4, 445-456.