Poverty has many faces and poverty reduction many pathways in different contexts. Lack of food and income interact with lack of access to water, energy, protection from floods, voice, rights and recognition. Among the pathways by which agricultural research can increase rural prosperity, integrated natural resource management deals with a complex nexus of issues, with tradeoffs among issues that are in various stages of denial, recognition, analysis, innovation, scenario synthesis and creation of platforms for (policy) change.
Rather than on a portfolio of externally developed ‘solutions’ ready for adoption and use, the concept of sustainable development may primarily hinge on the strengths and weaknesses of local communities to observe, analyse, innovate, connect, organize collective action and become part of wider coalitions. ‘Boundary work’ supporting such efforts can help resolve issues in a polycentric governance context, especially where incomplete understanding and knowledge prevent potential win-win alternatives to current lose-lose conflicts to emerge. Integrated research-development approaches deal with context (‘theory of place’) and options (‘theory of change’) in multiple ways that vary from selecting sites for studying pre-defined issues to starting from whatever issue deserves prominence in a given location of interest.
A knowledge-to-action linkage typology recognizes three situations of increasing complexity. In Type I more knowledge can directly lead to action by a single decision maker; in Type II more knowledge can inform tradeoff decisions, while in Type III negotiation support of multiple knowledge + multiple decision maker settings deals with a higher level of complexity. Current impact quantification can deal with the first, is challenged in the second and inadequate in the third case, dealing with complex social-ecological systems. Impact-oriented funding may focus on Type I and miss the opportunities for the larger ultimate impact of Type II and III involvements.