Skip to main content


Political scientists from Potsdam are dealing with the challenges of climate change

Climate change is among those topics that are discussed the most intensively all over the world. Even if it is not evident at first glance, these are often complex political problems by now. This is why natural and political scientists at the University of Potsdam work closely together – in the project PROGRESS.

“If we want to react to current problems like climate change better and more sustainably, we do not only depend on natural scientific findings but, above all, on the way that political administrative systems recognize this knowledge and process it accordingly,” Werner Jann, Professor of Political Science, Administration, and Organisation, is certain. “And this is exactly our special field.” The question is how governments, administrative bodies as well as the interaction between different levels of public administration, civil society, and science have to be organised to identify problems and to react to them. It is important to the researcher that natural scientific findings can be realized quickly and correctly by administration departments. These findings have to “match” internal administrative structures and processes but also enable administration to articulate its need with regard to natural scientific findings.

According to Werner Jann this joint project is “a great chance for the University of Potsdam”. PROGRESS stands for Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental Change and Sustainability. A part of PROGRESS is the research project Governance Structures – Institutions and Policy-Making. From a perspective of political science and public administration the project analyses how different actors in the Baltic Sea Region deal with the problem of climate change. This provides new opportunities for cooperation of two focus areas at the University of Potsdam: Public Policy and Management as well as Earth Sciences and Integrated Earth System Analysis. “I highly appreciate the readiness of geoscientists to cooperate with us,” Werner Jann says. Such kind of cooperation is certainly not a standard. Among the partners of the political scientists are also the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Climate change is a political phenomenon with many layers. It affects the international, national as well as regional and local levels of public policy. Within the PROGRESS project, the political scientists examine which institutional arrangements, organisational structures, and coordination processes are developed as a consequence of increasing climate risks, like for instance an increasing sea level and more storm surges in the Baltic Sea Region. The central question is: Which solutions can they provide and how do they influence formulating concrete strategies in policy making? On a national level, for instance, the project focuses on the interplay between political, administrative, social, and scientific actors. The scientists investigate to what extent international administrative bodies learn from best practices in other countries, on other political levels and also from their own past. They compare Western and Central Eastern European countries in the Baltic Sea Region, focusing on Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Estonia. Furthermore, they analyse how regional organisation like the Union of the Baltic Cities, the Council of the Baltic Sea States or the Helsinki Commission respond to climate change. The project also looks into climate policy making and the respective governance structures of the European Commission “The project aims at“, Werner Jann explains, “describing and understanding how specific governance structures affect the capacity of actors at national, regional, and European levels.” Only if we know which institutional arrangements facilitate long-term and coordinated solutions and which ones are more likely to be an obstacle, it will be possible to develop best practices and recommendations for certain organisational structures and concrete policy making.

“We conducted a lot of interviews and organised computer-assisted surveys in the ministries of the Baltic States and at the EU Commission,” Jann says. Problems occur both in generating and disseminating the knowledge and in coordination. What is more, there are a lot of conflicts because the ministry of agriculture looks at a situation from a different angle than the ministry of energy or transport. The different perspectives raise the question: How do we achieve coordinated and sustainable political strategies? This is where the scientists of Potsdam come in. “We are dealing with conflict resolution, coordination, planning processes, and general decisions from positions of uncertainty,” Werner Jann says. The scientists do not only contact scientific colleagues but also representatives of practical policy making, a field where the political scientists of Potsdam have a lot of experience. The professors of Werner Jann’s focus area work as consultants for governments, the OECD, and the United Nations. Jann says that you have to engage in a productive dialogue with those working in the field convincing them to reconsider their views and thus to bring about change. Continuous communication with practitioners and presence at meetings and conferences help to maintain contacts. “Political advisory work is a continuous process of education.” You cannot act on the assumption that preparing an expert opinion will change the world overnight.

Not all strategies can be used to the same extent at every place. “When we have understood how reasonable coordination, long-term planning and sustainable political programmes work in the Baltic Sea region, we will be able to apply our experience in Indonesia or Bangladesh, for instance.” First you have to establish what works in an advanced system. If a master plan does not work out in the Baltic region, it is highly unlikely that it will be useful in Bangladesh.

Natural and political scientists approach their research topics in very different ways. Natural scientists develop models that are as reliable as possible. Political scientists rather proceed from uncertainty and ignorance. “We think that we will not have full knowledge regarding georisks in the foreseeable future and perhaps we never will,” Werner Jann thinks. Nevertheless, administrative bodies have to react to them and research has to be involved – and this is exactly why natural and social scientists should work together.

The Project

Potsdam Research Cluster for Georisk Analysis, Environmental
Change and Sustainability

Participating: Universität Potsdam, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ), Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK), Hasso-Plattner-Institut für Softwaresystemtechnik (HPI), Alfred-Wegener-Institut (AWI), Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen „Konrad Wolf“ (HFF), Leibniz-Institut für Regionalentwicklung und Strukturplanung e.V. (IRS)
Financed by: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)
Duration: 2009 to 2013

The Scientist

Professor Werner Jann studied political sciences, mathematics, and economics in Berlin and Edinburgh, Scotland. Since 1993 he has been Professor for Political Science, Administration and Organisation at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Potsdam. He is also spokesperson of the Focus Area Public Policy and Management.


Universität Potsdam
Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
August-Bebel-Straße 89, 14482 Potsdam

Text: Dr. Barbara Eckardt, Online-Editing: Agnes Bressa, Translation: Susanne Voigt