Research and policy processes in many fields, such as sustainability and health, are increasingly relying on transdisciplinary cooperation among a multitude of governmental, nongovernmental, and private actors from local to global levels. In the absence of hierarchical chains of command, multistakeholder governance may accommodate conflicting or diverse interests and facilitate collective action, but its effectiveness depends on its capacity to integrate systems, transformation, and target knowledge. Approaches to foster such governance are nascent and quickly evolving, and methodological standards to facilitate comparison and learning from best practice are needed. However, there is currently no evaluation approach that (i) comprehensively assesses the capacity for knowledge integration in multistakeholder governance, (ii) draws on the best available knowledge that is being developed in various fields, and (iii) combines a systematic and transferable methodological design with pragmatic feasibility.
We brought together 20 experts from institutions in nine countries, all working on evaluation approaches for collaborative science–policy initiatives. In a synthesis process that included a 2-day workshop and follow-up work among a core group of participants, we developed a tool for evaluating knowledge integration capacity in multistakeholder governance (EVOLvINC). Its 23 indicators incorporate previously defined criteria and components of transdisciplinary evaluations into a single, comprehensive framework that operationalizes the capacity for integrating systems, target, and transformation knowledge during an initiative’s (a) design and planning processes at the policy formulation stage, (b) organization and working processes at the implementation stage, and (c) sharing and learning processes at the evaluation stage of the policy cycle. EVOLvINC is (i) implemented through a questionnaire, (ii) builds on established indicators where possible, (iii) offers a consistent and transparent semiquantitative scoring and aggregation algorithm, and (iv) uses spider diagrams for visualizing results. The tool builds on experience and expertise from both the northern and southern hemispheres and was empirically validated with seven science–policy initiatives in six African and Asian countries.
As a generalized framework, EVOLvINC thus enables a structured reflection on the capacity of multistakeholder governance processes to foster knowledge integration. Its emphasis on dialog and exploration allows adaptation to contextual specificities, highlights relative strengths and weaknesses, and suggests avenues for shaping multistakeholder governance toward mutual learning, capacity building, and strengthened networks. The validation suggests that the adaptive capacity of multistakeholder governance could be best enhanced by considering systems characteristics at the policy formulation stage and fostering adaptive and generic learning at the evaluation stage of the policy cycle.