Roles of science in institutional changes: The case of desertification control in China

Lihua Yang, Jianguo Wu, Pengyun Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Although the importance of science, in both desertification control and other types of environmental governance, has been emphasized by many studies, little is known about how science influences institutional changes. Based on a method combining surveys, interviews, observation, and a meta-analysis of the literature, this study explored the roles of science in institutional changes associated with desertification control in northern China. There are five major results of this study: (1) the application of science significantly improved the outcome of desertification control by influencing several aspects of institutional changes; (2) the major aspects of the institutional changes were identified (major actors in desertification control, desertification control methods, types of property rights, and laws and regulations); (3) the effects of applied scientific desertification control measures (SDCM) had more impacts on institutional changes than the extents of adoption and implementation of the measures; (4) six scientific areas had the greatest effects on institutional changes of desertification control were observed (agricultural science and technology, land development and construction planning, agricultural pest control, knowledge of forestry, knowledge of combating desertification and dust storms, and general knowledge of climate); and (5) the most important factors influencing the application effects of science on institutional change in desertification control were governmental behaviors, governmental attitudes toward the application of science, understanding of local knowledge, local conditions, local people, and effectiveness in science and technology transformation and extension. These findings shed new light on the influence of scientific measures on institutional changes by addressing large-scale, chronic environmental problems, such as desertification control in China and in other arid lands around the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-54
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Application of science
  • Desertification
  • Institutional change
  • Knowledge
  • Scientists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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