We argue that cooperative governance is a cornerstone of successful management of the use of ecosystems. Even where good institutions exist, the challenge is to establish a process of “collective action” that enables society to work through conflicting goals and values in a process of structured co-learning as they relate to the use of natural resources. Research enables informed collective action and is therefore central to informed governance of the use of ecosystems. In this paper we establish a framework for evaluating the role of research in informing the governance process. Selected case studies are used to assess how research has informed governance, their findings are discussed and lessons are drawn from these.