Environmental policies in developing countries are increasingly criticised for being predicated on highly questionable assumptions. This presents two challenges. The first is to explain how and why particular types of knowledge get established in policy. The second is to think about how policy processes might be opened up to more diverse forms of knowledge.
Understanding the knowledge-policy relationship involves clarifying exactly what policy is and how it is developed, and reflecting on the particular nature of scientific knowledge which plays such a major role in environmental policy-making. Analysing the policy process also cuts to the heart of key debates in social science: why is reality framed and dealt with in certain ways? How important is political conflict over distribution of power and resources? What is the role of individual actors in policy change? Three contrasting explanations of policy change are explored: that policy reflects political interests, that change reflects the actions of actor-networks; and that policy is a product of discourse.
The paper addresses the extent to which these explanations are compatible and argues that they can be taken together using a structuration argument, where discourses and interests are seen as shaping each other, and where both are additionally influenced by the actions of actor-networks. The analysis emphasises the importance of agency and suggests that powerful interests and discourses should not necessarily prohibit the emergence of more participatory policy processes: those allowing room for citizen science and the diverse perspectives of different actors.