Sara Elizabeth Velander

Research themes
  • Science Policy
  • Governance
  • Land use and food security
  • Environmental and climate change
  • Knowledge
  • Institutions
  • Biodiversity
  • Agriculture, land use, climate change
  • Innovation and science policy
  • Governance and conflict
Research countries
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania
Research projects

At the Science Policy Interface: LANd Use SYNergies and CONflicts within the framework of the 2030 Agenda (LANUSYNCON)


Master of Science in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, Central European University (Hungary), Lund University (Sweden), University of the Aegean (Greece)

Bachelor of Arts in Human Ecology, College of the Atlantic (USA)


Land use, Biodiversity, Climate change, Environmental policy, Science policy, Land governance

Funding institutions

Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF - FONA) 

Thesis title

Integrated Pathways for Coherent Land Use Decisions: Untangling and Embracing Complexity in Science-Policy Interfaces in the Sustainable Development Context

Thesis abstract

With many public interventions to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Agenda 2030 operating in silos, there are resounding calls for policy coherence that enhances synergies and minimizes conflicts of goals. Many of these conflicting goals are related to land use, a key part of the problem of and solution for the cumulative climate-, health-, and biodiversity-crises faced by today’s society. Scholars emphasize the need for evidence-based advice on integrated policy options that consider inter-dependencies among sectors and creates a common interest to address these challenges. Science-policy interfaces (SPIs), defined as the exchange of evidence between scientists, policymakers, knowledge holders and users, who can use this information to influence the outcomes of policy decisions on the environment, have the potential to fill knowledge gaps and foster concerted action on complex environmental issues. While SPIs attempt to bridge the traditional disconnect between science and policy, the institutional arrangements and outputs of SPIs are persistently detached from social-political contexts and other interlinked issues. Combined with the lack of collaboration among different SPIs, relevant organizations and diverse actors, their capacity to influence policies is undermined which makes it more challenging for policymakers to tackle the increasing complexity of rampant land use change.

In this study, I examine and confront the aforementioned challenges of SPIs through three objectives:

1. To understand how SPIs impact policy in the sustainable development context and the effectiveness of SPI processes to achieve successful policy outcomes.

Under this objective I will conduct a systematic review of the literature as well as a discourse analysis through a set of semi-structures interviews with experts and practitioners of global SPIs, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

2. To identify how and the extent to which formalized, global SPIs cope with complexity.

For this objective, I will use social network analysis, quantitative text analysis, process tracing and benchmarking. The prior systematic review will also inform a set of independent variables I will use to explain, firstly, the extent that SPI outputs (assessments and special reports) address complex land use issues (thematic coverage, structure, breadth and length etc.), and, secondly, the extent that SPIs cope with complexity in their outputs (institutional arrangements, networks, diverse stakeholder engagement etc.).

3. To determine whether the complex knowledge generated by global SPI outputs are reflected in national decisions on biodiversity conservation and agricultural production in Kenya, two conflicting issues relevant in a country with mounting land pressures.

As a first step, I will use stakeholder identification and analysis to identify the global SPI actors and Kenyan policy actors who interact and exchange complex knowledge on issues of biodiversity conservation and agricultural production. In a second step, I will use quantitative text analysis to assess the extent that global SPIs and core messages related to conflicts and synergies of biodiversity conservation and agricultural production are referenced in national policy documents.

Supervisors of
doctoral work

Primary supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thomas Dietz

Secondary supervisor: Jun-Prof. Dr. Lisa Biber-Freudenberger


Velander S. and de Dòna M..  2024.  Leveraging windows of opportunity for expertise to matter in global environmental governance: Insights from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  Frontiers in Climate, 5   . (Open Access)   Further Information


Wagner, N., Velander, S., Biber-Freudenberger, L., and Dietz, T..  2023.  Effectiveness factors and impacts on policymaking of science-policy interfaces in the environmental sustainability context.  Environmental Science and Policy, 140   : 56-67   . (Open Access)   Further Information


Velander, S., F. Silva Martinelli, D. Idam Sari, F. Ali & L. Biber-Freudenberger.  2021.  A dichotomy of domestic and academic pathways: challenges of motherhood in an international doctoral program on land science.  Journal of Land Use Science, : 20   . (Open Access)   Further Information

Additionals, Curriculum Vitae
and Downloads

Sara Elizabeth Velander

Junior Researcher


Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Use


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