SEI was formed in 1989 with a mission to induce change towards sustainable development by bridging science and policy, and all its research activities aim to have policy impact in some way.

SEI interacts with decision-making and policymaking at different institutional and organizational scales and levels; these include decisions made by individuals to change behaviour, whether they are individual decision-makers at a community scale, in the private sector, in local authorities, or in national or international policy development processes.

Understanding how SEI undertakes policy engagement and the impact it has is not always as clear as the success of our scientific endeavours. During the SEI 2015–19 strategy period, the organization invested in institutional learning to better understand its policy engagement and determine ways to improve it.

The role of Policy Director was created in 2013 to initiate activities to help understand how SEI undertakes policy engagement, and how others consider the interaction between knowledge on decision and policymaking to occur, as well as to identify ways to increase SEI’s capacity to engage with these decision-making processes and have high impact. The Policy Director-led team undertook a programme of activities to better understand SEI’s engagement with decision-makers, enhance the capacity of SEI staff, and improve the organization’s chances of achieving significant impact on decision-making.

This report represents an assessment of how we engage with policy and decision-making, the outcomes of that engagement and the characteristics of SEI that enable successful outcomes to be achieved. It puts into context the engagement of SEI research and researchers with decision and policymaking processes around the world, draws out understanding, and offers lessons on how we might improve what we do.