Political scientist Karl W. Deutsch, a major figure in the WZB’s early history, was a seminal influence in work on political communication, social learning, and collective community formation. Among the major themes that continue to resonate, is the question: how do societies understand their settings, and how do they adapt? In the environmental domain we can ask: how do states and societies recognize and respond to impending environmental risks, and how do they organize their collective responses? What constitutes an effective response? Deutsch did not fall prey to the autistic theorizing of rational choice about decisions largely independent of social context, or to heroic assumptions about individual and collective knowledge and decision-making skills. Rather these questions of understanding and adaptation were historicized and treated as empirical questions about which meaningful social analysis could be conducted, leading to insights about social change, emancipation, transformation, and maybe even, in that not passé term, progress.