Managing integration: Trans- & Inter-disciplinary science approaches

As the inter-linkages between our society and its environment become more apparent, so the notion of integration (across multiple social perspectives and fields of knowledge) becomes more important. So we have a growing family of integrated management initiatives (integrated watershed management – IWM; integrated coastal management – ICM; etc.). Similarly we seek to back these up in science by moving beyond our more traditional disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches, and exploring interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches. The links on this page point first to the emerging resources that are documenting the lessons from integration in practice, and the second to the growing body of theory that points to the need for these new science approaches (sustainability science, post-normal science, Mode II science, etc.).

Science integration in practice

LfS-iconBridging disciplines, knowledge systems and cultures in pest management This 2014 Environmental Management paper by Will Allen, Shaun Ogilvie, Helen Blackie and colleagues begins to answer the challenges set out in the above report. It looks to provide practical solutions for the challenges of science in working across the social and biophysical science divide, and linking more effectively with end users. The paper describes how their research team with a range of disciplinary and stakeholder expertise was able to use an action research based approach to critically reflect on their engagement practice and identify lessons around how to collaborate more effectively. They discuss the implications of these experiences for other researchers and managers seeking to improve engagement and collaboration in integrated science, management and policy initiatives.

www_iconDisciplining Interdisciplinarity: Integration and Implementation Sciences for Researching Complex Real-World Problems. This 2013 book by Gabriele Bammer provides collaborative research teams with a systematic approach for addressing complex real-world problems like widespread poverty, global climate change, organised crime, and escalating health care costs. It reminds us of the importance of synthesizing disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns, and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. The book shows how and where to apply a wide range of concepts, methods and tools. It is freely available online, and in a number of formats.

www_iconThe World Social Science Report 2013 The World Social Science Report 2013 issues an urgent call to action to the international social science community to collaborate more effectively with each other, with colleagues from other fields of science, and with the users of research to deliver solutions-oriented knowledge on today’s most pressing environmental problems. It shows the essential contributions that the social sciences can and must make to the integrated thinking and responses it requires. The Report issues an urgent and decisive appeal to the social sciences to intensify research on the human causes, vulnerabilities and impacts of environmental change, and to inform responses to the sustainability crisis. It urges social scientists to work more closely with each other, with colleagues from other scientific fields, and with multiple stakeholders and users of science to deliver credible and legitimate knowledge for real-world problem solving

LfS-iconBuilding collaboration and learning in integrated catchment management: the importance of social process and multiple engagement approaches. This 2011 paper by Will Allen and colleagues builds on a 10-year integrated catchment management research programme to review emerging lessons around engagement and social learning. The authors look at different research actities and show how they can be fitted into different disciplinary categories – disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary. The paper provides examples of how the team supported interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary activities. Finally, a number of lessons are described from across the programme to guide research leaders and managers seeking to improve collaboration in other integrated science, management and policy initiatives.

www_iconDefining concepts and the process of knowledge production in integrative research A good synthesis of definitions is provided by Barbell & Gunther Tress and Gary Fry in this paper …. “We define interdisciplinary studies as projects that involve several unrelated academic disciplines in a way that forces them to cross subject boundaries to create new knowledge and theory and solve a common research goal. By unrelated, we mean that they have contrasting research paradigms. We might consider the differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches or between analytical and interpretative approaches that bring together disciplines from the humanities and the natural sciences. We define transdisciplinary studies as projects that both integrate academic researchers from different unrelated disciplines and non-academic participants, such as land managers and the public, to research a common goal and create new knowledge and theory. Transdisciplinarity combines interdisciplinarity with a participatory approach.”

Social ecohydrology: integrating the social and natural sciences in water management This paper by Veronica Strang considers some of the intellectual challenges that arise in efforts to integrate social issues into water management. It suggests that there is need to extend natural science models to mesh with well-established theoretical social science frameworks. It considers these theoretical models, and the potential for bringing them into productive articulation, and proposes some practical ways forward.

Integrating the social and natural sciences in environmental research: a discussion paper Another paper by Veronica Strang that considers the practical and intellectual challenges that attend efforts to integrate the social and natural sciences in environmental research, and the broader political, social and economic context in which this takes place. It is the outcome of discussions between social and natural scientists about the obstacles impeding their efforts to collaborate. It attempts to draw together the key issues, to consider the broader social, political and economic context from which these arise, and to propose some potential guidelines for successful interdisciplinary collaboration.

www_iconEpistemological pluralism: reorganizing interdisciplinary research” This paper by Thaddeus Miller and colleagues points out that despite progress in interdisciplinary research, difficulties remain. In this paper, they argue that scholars, educators, and practitioners need to critically rethink the ways in which interdisciplinary research and training are conducted. They present epistemological pluralism as an approach for conducting innovative, collaborative research and study. Epistemological pluralism recognizes that, in any given research context, there may be several valuable ways of knowing, and that accommodating this plurality can lead to more successful integrated study. Finally, they highlight how interdisciplinary work is impeded when divergent epistemologies are not recognized and valued, and that by incorporating a pluralistic framework, these issues can be better explored, resulting in more integrated understanding.

Practicing interdisciplinarity This paper by Sharachandra Lele & Richard B. Norgaard explores the practical difficulties of interdisciplinary research in the context of a regional- or local-scale project. The authors posit four barriers to interdisciplinarity that are common across many disciplines and draw on our own experience and on other sources to explore how these barriers are manifested. Values enter into scientific theories and data collection through scientists’ hidden assumptions about disciplines other than their own, through the differences between quantitative and interpretive social sciences, and through roadblocks created by the organization of academia and the relationship between academics and the larger society. Participants in interdisciplinary projects need to be self-refiective about the value judgments embedded in their choice of variables and models. They should identify and use a core set of shared concerns to motivate the effort, be willing to respect and to learn more about the “other,” be able to work with new models and alternative taxonomies, and allow for plurality and incompleteness.

Transdisciplinary research (TDR) and sustainability This report by Karen Cronin looks at the emergence of transdisciplinary research, including theoretical and practical developments internationally and in New Zealand, and its potential to contribute to sustainability outcomes. It provides a good overview of definitions and outlines the characteristics and steps involved in TDR. Attention is paid to both challenges and benefits of this way of working, and its potential use in the future is discussed.

LfS-iconGetting technical environmental information into watershed decision making
” This paper from Will Allen and Margaret Kilvington looks at the practicalities of managing integrated and interdisciplinary research initiatives. The authors introduce a collaborative adaptive management approach to improve the use of information within environmental research initiatives. This approach is shown as a knowledge management cycle that helps different stakeholders access and integrate information more effectively, and ultimately changes how they see a situation and consequently go about managing it. Focus is given to improving learning, particularly in getting people to challenge their underlying assumptions. To achieve this it is suggested that interdisciplinary science teams need to broaden their membership to include specialists with integrative social skills.

www_iconFrom landscape research to landscape planning: aspects of integration, education and application Research policy favours projects that integrate disciplinary knowledge and involve non-academic stakeholders. Consequently, integrative concepts – interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity – are gaining currency in landscape research and planning. Researchers are excited by the prospect of merging disciplinary and non-academic expertise to improve their understanding and performance, but often struggle with the challenges of operationalizing integration.This book by Barbell & Gunther Tress and Gary Fry provides guidelines for those coping with these challenges, whether they are members of an integrative research team or individuals working on a problem that demands integration. They must define terminology, choose appropriate methodologies, overcome epistemological barriers and cope with the high expectations of some stakeholders while encouraging others to participate at all.The book deals with the development of integrative theory and concepts, the development of integrative tools and methods, training and education for integration, and the application of integrative concepts in landscape research. As it also presents examples of successful integrative PhD studies, it is not only valuable for experienced scientists but will also help other PhD students find their way in integrative research.

www_iconParticipatory research and development for sustainable agriculture and natural resource management: A sourcebook (Three-volume Set) This three-volume sourcebook provides easy access to field-tested Participatory research and development (PR&D) concepts and practices for practitioners, researchers, and academic. As well, it presents a comprehensive overview of PR&D and will serve as a general reference for trainers, policymakers, donors, and development professionals. The sourcebook captures and examines PR&D experiences from over 30 countries, illustrating applications in sustainable crop and animal production, forest and watershed management, soil and water conservation, and postharvest and utilization. (Edited by Julian Gonsalves, Thomas Becker, Ann Braun, Dindo Campilan, Hidelisa de Chavez, Elizabeth Fajber, Monica Kapiriri, Joy Rivaca-Caminade, and Ronnie Vernooy.)

www_iconBeyond Value Neutrality: An Alternative to Monetary Monism in Ecological Economics This working paper by Bryan Norton (School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology) points to the need to value and accomodate pluralistic perspectives if we are to achieve an integrated conception of how we might evaluate ecological and environmental change. He notes that the emerging dominance within ecological economics of the movement to monetize “ecological services,” when combined with the already well-entrenched dominance of contingent pricing as a means to evaluate impacts on amenities, has created a “monistic” approach to valuation studies. It is argued that this monistic approach to evaluating anthropogenic impacts is inconsistent with a sophisticated conception of ecology as a complex science that rests on shifting metaphors. An alternative, pluralistic and iterative approach to valuation of anthropogenic ecological change is proposed.

Integration of Human Dimensions in Climate Change Assessments This plenary address by Dr. Shardul Agrawala was presented to the 2001 Open Meeting of the International Human Dimensions of Global Change Community. It highlights the challenges that social scientists can face in working with their bio-physicial counterparts. “The integration of the more interpretive social sciences within the GCMcentric climate assessments is akin to forcing telephone jacks into a power socket.” Dr Agrawala goes on to point out that what social scientists are good at however is in framing the problem, as they often take an ends (as opposed to means) driven perspective. Social scientists can also play critical reflexive roles by essentially serving as social sensors and assessing the impact and unintended consequences of scientific analyses – an exercise that physical scientists may view as armchair philosophy, or worse, as negativism.

www_iconIntroduction of Social Sciences in Australian Natural Resource Management Agencies This paper by Alice Roughley and David Salt examines the integration, from 1978 to 2002, of six social scientists in five Australian natural resource management agencies: CSIRO Australia, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Murray Darling Basin Commission, the Western Australian Social Impact Unit, and the Queensland Social Impact Assessment Unit. All but one of the social scientists in the study occupied the first formal social science position in the respective agency. The organisational arrangements for integration, the roles of the social scientists and achievements of social science programs in those agencies illustrate a number of integration approaches and insights for effectively integrating social and natural science. Insights emanating from this research will be useful to inform future natural resource management that avoids integration failures. This paper illustrates both significant impediments to integration in practice and positive examples of integrated multidisciplinary approaches in natural resource management.

Developing research teams that link science and policy A powerpoint presentation that I presented at a GECAFS meeting  in Kathmandu, Nepal 27-30 June 2006.

New forms of science integration

Over the past 20 years there have been a number of parallel trends for more inclusive inquiry and knowledge production approaches (all calling for more collaborative science, interdisciplinarity, and adaptive management/learning). These include:

Sustainability Science: Challenges for the New Millennium
This paper by William Clark summarises the characteristics of a new science for sustainability that was first coined at the 2000 Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science in Sweden. It highlights the need for a more engaged science with better systems understanding. Recent efforts that have emerged from subsequent thinking and dialogue can be found at the Forum: Science and Innovation for Sustainable Development www_icon. This forum seeks to facilitate information exchange and discussion among the growing and diverse group of individuals, institutions, and networks engaged in the field of science and technology for sustainability.

www_iconPost-Normal Science Funtowicz, Silvio and Jerry Ravetz (Lead Authors); Robert Costanza (Topic Editor). 2006. “Post-Normal Science.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published September 18, 2006; Last revised September 20, 2006; Retrieved February 24, 2007].