There is growing interest – and need – among researchers and research organizations to contribute societally relevant work as well as to demonstrate the policy impact of their research. Diverse science-policy interfaces (SPIs) aim for scientifically informed policymaking by connecting scientists with policymakers. Effective SPIs need to be grounded in credibility, relevance and legitimacy; at the same time, however, they become part of the complex, politicised web of public policymaking. In this article we examine how forest researchers who participate in diverse SPIs in the context of the Global South navigate this complexity. We apply the concepts of credibility, relevance and legitimacy to explore the tensions researchers experience, as well as the strategies that researchers apply when responding to them. The research is based on in-depth interviews with 23 forest researchers and highlights (i) the tensions related to ensuring both policy and political relevance particularly in the context of research led SPIs; and (ii) tensions arising from the need to maintain credibility in the face of contestation and pressure to omit research critical of existing policies and practice and also the legitimacy of ‘experts’ operating within the SPI. Ensuring SPI effectiveness (research impact) also emerged as an additional source of tension. While multiple response strategies were identified, including knowledge co-production and strategic engagement with key policy actors, some of the tensions led to compromises, which we discuss. We conclude by highlighting the need to understand power relations in terms of both planning but also evaluating effective SPIs.
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