skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

 

William Blencowe

Enabling Sustainability Informed Decision-Making in Complex Organisations: The Role of Knowledge and Expertise

Complex organisations are key contributors to a successful sustainability transition. However, their size, geographical spread and complicated governance and operational structures can make it difficult to embed effective decision-making that consistently delivers both business and sustainability outcomes. Decision-making models highlight a variety of different approaches to shape decision outcomes, however, to be effective these must be informed by relevant knowledge, accessible in an appropriate format to the decision-maker.

This study explores the different approaches used by organisations to create, disseminate and apply sustainability-related knowledge in support of decision-makers at all levels of an organisation. The study uses semi-structured interviews with practitioners involved in the implementation of sustainability in large and complex organisations in the public and private sectors. Grounding the analysis in real-world practice, the study uses thematic coding to examine how sustainability-relevant knowledge is used, assimilated, created, transferred and embedded within complex organisations.

The study finds that organisations use a variety of mutually reinforcing knowledge-based approaches to frame and align sustainability in the decision context, as well as to inform decision-makers of the relevant relationships between sustainability, operational and organisational systems. By harnessing approaches suited to content, complexity and practicality, organisations use formal flows of knowledge and cultural and transactional enablers to create and transfer knowledge of the desired outcome (goal-knowledge) and knowledge informing how this might be achieved (how-knowledge). The study extends the understanding of the role of sustainability-related knowledge in decision-making and presents a model of how the different forms, topics and flows of knowledge interact to shape decision outcomes. Additionally, the findings highlight three strategies employed by organisations to address anticipated sustainability knowledge gaps: lower the knowledge needed, translate to a proxy attribute, or provide suitable knowledge to inform the decision. By providing a framework, the study aids conceptualisation of the different knowledge needs required to inform and influence how sustainability is factored into decision-making while retaining coherency across an organisation.