Effectively translating scientific knowledge into policy and practice is essential for helping humanity navigate contemporary environmental challenges. The likelihood of achieving this can be increased through the study of bright spots -instances where science has successfully influenced policy and practice- and the sense of optimism that this can inspire.

The authors of this paper contend that the continued propagation of the “science-policy-gap” mantra (focused on documenting and understanding situations where science has failed to inform policy) is counterproductive to improving the relationship between environmental science, policy and practice.

This paper argues that a shift in the academic study of science-policy-practice interfaces is needed towards the study of bright spots -outliers that perform significantly better than would be expected. In this sense, the authors believe that the systematic documentation of success will help to establish a new mantra of optimism.

The authors draw on other fields, sectors and personal experiences to explore the value of optimism in this context, and identify the key lessons and principles that can be used to increase the likelihood that environmental science will positively influence and impact policy and practice.

It is concluded that the systematic study of bright spots will be essential for moving beyond the existing mantra surrounding the interface of science, policy and practice towards a new mantra of optimism, one that inspires hope and empowers scientists and decisions makers to continue to strive for new ways of working together for a sustainable future.


Cvitanovic C, Hobday AJ (2018) Building optimism at the environmental science-policy-practice interface through the study of bright spots. Nature Communications 9:3466.