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Elisabeth Graffy

Professor of Practice (FSC)
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5603
Senior Global Futures Scientist
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5603
Professor of Practice (FSC)
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5603
Professor of Practice (FSC)
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5603

Elisabeth Graffy is Professor of Practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and in the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University. She is an Area Leader for Energy and Society in ASU-LightWorks and Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation (GIOSI). An expert on policy and institutional change, she focuses on disruptive challenges that intersect science, technology, politics, economics, and culture. Her issue portfolio includes environmental policy and sustainability, food and agriculture, water, energy, social resilience, and efforts to manage climate change. She has developed award-winning research on the science-policy nexus and leads large-scale, participatory social experiments in accelerating sustainable, inclusive energy transitions that integrate social and technological innovation. She explores strategies for proactive mitigation of water scarcity, wildfires and extreme temperatures in the Central and Western US and post-hurricane recovery of energy systems in Puerto Rico. She also investigates issues associated with emerging markets, policies and technologies for climate change mitigation through carbon dioxide removal, capture and use.

Dr. Graffy designed and leads the Sustainable Energy, Equity, and Knowledge-Sharing (SEEK) project, a novel approach to spurring energy transitions by engaging the collective impact of hard-to-reach or left out sectors with substantial but unrealized social resources. SEEK combines systems research, community engagement and student-led service learning with multi-sectoral partnerships to enhance joint capacities. Partners include technical experts and government agencies as well as key social networks, such as faith communities, and other underserved or less represented sectors in the clean energy economy.

She has been instrumental in establishing several knowledge enterprises at ASU that build community and foster collaborative problem-solving: the Spirituality and Sustainability Initiative, the Environmental Humanities Initiative, the Household Independent Power Project (HIPP), the Center for Energy and Society, and the Climate Engineering Governance Initiative (CEGI). She collaborates with partners in public and private sectors and in diverse disciplinary fields, from engineering to theology. She designed and taught the longest-running graduate seminar on the social and political dimensions of energy transitions at ASU, Sustainable Energy as a Social Problem, attracting students from public affairs, law, business, environmental social science, engineering, sustainability, life sciences, design, and planning.

Her research has impact in the real world. Her analysis of rooftop solar innovations, Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities? received national media attention, including in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, and is cited in state regulatory reforms and legal textbooks. A related study in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Corporate Finance and Sustainability: The Case of the Electric Utility Industry, tested the feasibility of refocusing existing utility finance mechanisms on new goals, with examples in New York and Minnesota. Resilience depends on including public attitudes and cultural knowledge in technology, policy and market innovation, as illustrated in Narrative futures and the governance of energy transitions.

With two decades of governmental, private sector and NGO leadership experience prior to joining the faculty at ASU, Graffy has addressed issues as diverse as housing, refugee relief, rotational grazing, conflict resolution, and energy stewardship. She has authored, co-authored and edited more than 70 academic, governmental and other publications including two major reports for the U.S. Congress, Targeting Environmental Priorities for Agriculture: Reforming Program Strategies and Agriculture, Trade and Environmment: Achieving Complementary Policies. As National Policy Advisor to the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program at the U.S. Geological Survey, she realigned the science-policy relationship and advanced new approaches to science communication and integrated scientific analysis, iincluding the acclaimed Summary Reports series on water quality aimed at federal and state decision-makers. Her Functions of Scientific Information (FOSI) model guided this realignment and has also been utilized to evaluate the impact of philanthropic investments, inform strategic partnership-building, implement White House policy initiatives, and design solutions-focused research. Her related article, Meeting the Challenges of Policy‐Relevant Science: Bridging Theory and Practice, won both the Marshall Dimock award for best article and Louis Brownlow award for best article by a practitioner in Public Administration Review, the only such dual award in the journal's history. 

Graffy served as a special adviser to the Acting Secretary of the Interior on a White House-led policy initiative on environmental decision-making, leading a team of five federal departments and managing consultations with the National Academy of Public Administration. She has held policy and program positions at every level of government: the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment, US Geological Survey/Interior, and US Agency for International Development (federal); Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Legislative Audit Bureau (state); and Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and New York City Office of Management and Budget (city). She was elected Chair of the Section on Women in Public Administration, the largest membership section in the American Society for Public Administration, and continues to mentor and advocate for inclusion and equity in professional development, public service and leadership.  

  • Ph.D. Land Resources* & Public Policy, University of Wisconsin-Madison 
  • M.S. Agricultural Economics, University of Wisconsin (Gamma Sigma Delta Honor Society) 
  • A.B. Politics, Cum Laude, Princeton University 

*Program since been renamed "Environment and Resources"

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Research Interests: 

I am primarily interested in how people collectively navigate critical challenges, which means that I am preoccupied with moments of change and transformation. These often present as some kind of societal crisis and tend to be extremely vexing because they not only intertwine with other important things but challenge the individuals involved in personal and professional ways that can vary from the most technical to the most emotional. Seldom, if ever, is one person equipped to resolve such crises alone. People are making choices in some sort of collective way, whether we are talking about a town hall meeting, a corporate board room, a legislative session, or an amorphous societal dialogue. How people deliberate and make choices -- preferably well -- in consequential moments, is of great interest to me. 

These days, I focus almost entirely on energy issues, but my approach builds on my previous work on water, food, leading interdisciplinary teams, and leading organizational re-missioning efforts under pressure. In my current work, I deal with a broad range of issues like what we mean by global energy sustainability, how the institutional context of regulated electricity utilities might be changing and why, why people don't often use solar cell-phone chargers although they love the idea of them, and how hurricanes might change the politics of risk around climate engineering. While these may seem very different from each other, they relate to how people process and respond to extraordinary challenges like energy and climate stresses while also living ordinary lives with hopes, dreams goals, jobs, pets and kids. 

Research Group: 

Household Independent Power Project


Spirituality and Sustainability Initiative

Environmental Humanities Initiative





Graffy, Elisabeth and Lucia Gauchia, Winslow Burleson, Ellen Stechel, Elizabeth Chalecki, Jacqueline Tidwell. 2017. Safeguarding the resilience of power and transportation infrastructures during transitions to sustainability, The CIP Report, July 20.

​Miller, Clark, Jason O’Leary, Elisabeth A. Graffy, Ellen Stechel, and Gary Dirks. 2015. Narrative futures and the governance of energy transitions, Futures, 70: 65–74.

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2014. Carbon Controls and a Solar Surge: Are Public Attitudes Changing the Game? The Hill, June 16.

Graffy, Elisabeth A. and S. Kihm, 2014. Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities? Energy Law Journal, 35(1): 1-44.

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2012. Agrarian ideals, sustainability ethics, and US policy: a critique for practitioners. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 25(4): 503-528.

Why talk about civic engagement in science and technology policy and innovation? in Rawlings, K., ed., Civic Engagement (Arizona Town Hall, 2012).

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2011. [Water] Compact adaptation and institutional risks of reform. Public Administration Review, 71(3): 42‐54.

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2011. Negotiation and the 4 Cs. Negotiation Guidance Associates Newsletter,

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2008. Meeting the challenges of policy‐relevant science: bridging theory and practice. 2008. Public Administration Review, Nov/Dec: 1087. [Dimock Best Article award, 2009; Brownlow Best Article by a Practitioner, 2009; only article to win both awards in PAR history (75 years)].

Graffy, Elisabeth A and Nathaniel Booth. 2008. Linking environmental risk assessment and communication: an experiment in co‐evolving scientific and social knowledge.  International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, 8(1/2): 132‐146.

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 2006. Expert forecasts and the emergence of water scarcity on public agendas. Society and Natural Resources, 19(5): 465‐472.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 1995. Targeting Environmental Priorities for Agriculture: Reforming Program Strategies. OTA-ENV-640 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), (Co-author with David Ervin).

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 1995. Agriculture, Trade and Environment: Achieving Complementary Policies. OTA-ENV-617 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), (Co-author with David Ervin, Sherry Showell, Leo Mayer).

Graffy, Elisabeth A. 1999. Enhancing policy-relevance without burning up or burning out: A strategy for scientists. In ed. Eloise Kendy, Science into Policy: Water in the Public Realm. TPS-99-2 (Herndon, Virginia: American Water Resources Association).


Research Activity: 

Conceptualizing energy system transformation as a wicked problem

Public deliberation on climate and energy challenges and solutions

Disruption and redesign of the US electric utility sector

Decision-making under conditions of ambiguity

Energy politics and social movements 


Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
PIT 503Technology Impact Assessments
Spring 2019
Course NumberCourse Title
SOS 599Thesis
Fall 2018
Course NumberCourse Title
SOS 573Sust Energy III: Futures
Spring 2018
Course NumberCourse Title
PAF 591Seminar
SOS 598Special Topics
HSD 598Special Topics
Spring 2017
Course NumberCourse Title
PAF 591Seminar
SOS 598Special Topics
HSD 598Special Topics

Course Details

HSD 598/SOS 598/PAF 591 Sustainable Energy as a Social Problem (Spring 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) – 15 week face to face, 15 week hybrid, 7.5 week hybrid formats

HSD 598 Energy and Social Movements (Fall 2014, 7.5 week hybrid format)

HSD 598 Energy Blogging and Political Discourse (Fall 2013, 7.5 week hybrid format)

HSD 598 Energy, Ethics, Policy and Society (Spring 2013, Fall, 2014)

IES/URPL 865: Water Resources Policy and Institutions, School of Urban and Regional Planning/Institute for Environmental Studies, Spring 2003 (co-taught with Steve Born) (Spring 2001)

Science-Policy Workshops: Designed and taught multiple workshops for multidisciplinary teams of scientists nationwide; aimed at building mastery of science-policy nexus concepts, effective transdisciplinary analysis, and communication approaches to better inform public decision-making. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 1996-2001.


Public Presentations (selected)

Engaging Consumer-Citizens in the Transition to Sustainable Energy Systems: Preliminary Results from the Power Up Lending Libraries, Science, Technology, and the Environment: Harnessing the Capacity of Innovation for Sustainable Governance Track (Innovative Tools and Approaches to Economic Development), American Society for Public Administration National Conference, Seattle, WA, March 21, 2016.

Exploring Prospects for Transformative, Sustainable Energy System Change, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Weston Roundtable, December 10, 2015.

Energy and Sustainability Education: Improving the Politics and Public Policy Discourse, Council of Energy Education and Research Leaders (CEREL) of the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), webinar, Dec 7, 2015

Stability, Innovation and Evolution in the Power Sector, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Future of Energy Forums, November 12, 2015 (with S. Kihm)

Successful succession of section leadership: SWPA experience, ASPA Annual Chapter and Section  Leadership Meeting, Saturday, November 7, 2015, Arlington, VA

Death Spirals and Energy Independence: The Volatility of Contemporary Energy Policy, Michigan Technological University, October 1, 2015

The Sociopolitical Context of Public and Private Investment in Emerging Power Systems, SEL Modern Solutions Power Conference, Chicago, IL, June 3, 2015

Deconstructing Fracking as Socio-political Controversy, International Studies Association, New Orleans, February 20, 2015

Death spirals, solar rooftops, legal innovations – and the emerging politics of energy system sustainability, Weston Roundtable, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nov 6, 2014.

Co-Chair, double session on Energy poverty, disruption and scarcity (with Rob Bailis, Yale University). Session I: Exploring social drivers of sustainable energy innovations in the Global North and Global South; Session II: Energy poverty, disruption and scarcity: local responses and participatory socio-technological innovation spaces as drivers of sustainable energy solutions. Association for Environmental Studies and Science Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA, June 19-22, 2013

Trends in the Public Response to Energy-Disrupting Storms: Move, Decentralize, Innovate, Presenter and Chair, Session II: “Energy poverty, disruption and scarcity,” Association for Environmental Studies and Science Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA, June 21, 2013

Why is Fracking Controversial? [delivered in two venues: Cooler Energies for a Sustainable Planet - Continuing Education seminar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, April 28, 2013 and National Institute for Energy, Ethics and Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, April 10, 2013

Cradle to grave: an LCA for professional development, SWPA Professional Development Workshop, American Society for Public Administration National Conference, Las Vegas, NV, March 15, 2013 (with Suzanne Discenza)

Social & Technical Barriers & Burdens to Terawatt-scale Photovoltaic Technology, Joint Workshop of Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) and Graduates in Integrative Society and Environment Research (GISER), Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, April 9, 2013

No Taboos: Linking facts with imagination to set course for a sustainable energy future in Arizona (and beyond), Keynote, Arizona Town Hall: “Arizona’s Energy Future,” Nov. 6, 2011, Grand Canyon, 2011

Confronting Complexity: Rethinking the Role of Public Attitudes in Sustainable Energy Change, Weston Roundtable Series, Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, University of Wisconsin-Madison, October 2011.

Public Attitudes as a Barometer for Sustainable Energy Design and Deployment, Session: “Social Responses to New Renewable Energy Technologies and Infrastructure,” Association for Environmental Studies and Science Annual Meeting, Burlington, VT June 2011

Energy as a Wicked Problem: Challenges for Research and Policy, Institute for Defense Analysis - Science, Technology and Policy Institute, Washington, DC, January 2011



Editorial Board, Public Administation Review

Handling Editor, Sustainability Science



Professional Associations: 

American Society for Public Administration (ASPA)

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS)

International Studies Association (ISA)

Graduate Faculties / Mentoring History: 

School for the Future of Innovation in Society

School of Sustainability

School of Human Evolution and Social Change

School of Public Affairs

Work History: 

Scholar and practitioner of system transformation as a cross-cutting theme of policy development, entrepreneurship, and technological innovation. Multi-faceted leadership experience in public and private international, federal, state and non-governmental organizations including: US Department of the Interior; US Congress - Office of Technology Assessment; Families for Children Refugee Program, Mogadishu, Somalia; New York City Office of Management and Budget - Housing and Economic Development Task Force; Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau; Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection - Farm Mediation and Arbitration Program; U.S. Agency for International Development - Micro and Small Enterprise Development; Beveridge and Diamond, LLC. Served on numerous boards for non-profit organizations focused on community gardens, urban open space, and sustainable neighborhoods. 


I advise organizations on framing and developing strategies to meet evolving missions and adapting to unexpected demands.

I am involved in various efforts to support professional development through mentoring and organizational leadership. I've served on the national board of the Section on Women in Public Administration (SWPA), the largest membership section of the American Association of Public Administration, since 2009; as the elected Chair of SWPA in 2015-16 and Chair/Co-Chair of the SWPA Professional Development committee for several years.



Private consulting


Section on Women in Public Administration, American Society of Public Administration

Industry Positions: 

Environmental Law Assistant, Beveridge and Diamond LLC

Pro Bono: 

Volunteer with various civic groups