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 research and management (R&D) initiatives (integrated watershed management – IWM; integrated coastal management – ICM; etc.). Similarly we seek to back these up in our science institutions 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 research 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

Large-Scale Transdisciplinary Collaboration for Adaptation Research: Challenges and Insights
This paper by Georgina Cundill and colleagues (2019) shares insights from a seven-year climate change adaptation research program that supports collaboration between more than 450 researchers and practitioners across four consortia and 17 countries. The experience confirms the importance of attention to careful design for transdisciplinary collaboration, but also highlights the necessary influence of relational and systemic features of collaborative relationships. Relational features include interpersonal trust, mutual respect, and leadership styles, while systemic features include legal partnership agreements, power asymmetries between partners, and institutional values and cultures.

Indigenous knowledge, methodology and mayhem: What is the role of methodology in producing Indigenous insights? A discussion from mātauranga Māori
LT Smith, TK Maxwell, H Puke, P Temara (2016) Knowledge Cultures
The emergence of an academic discourse called Indigenous knowledge internationally, and mātauranga Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand, presents some substantive challenges to concepts of knowing and being, of knowledge creation, knowledge work and the making of meaning. These challenges engage us across philosophical, disciplinary, institutional, inter-generational, territorial and community boundaries. This paper raises some discussion about ‘research methodologies’ being used when discussing mātauranga Māori and Indigenous knowledge.

How the DPSIR framework can be used for structuring problems and facilitating empirical research in coastal systems
RL Lewison, MA Rudd, W Al-Hayek, C Baldwin, and colleagues. Science & Policy, 2016
As pressures on coastal zones mount, there is a growing need for frameworks that can be used to conceptualize complex sustainability challenges and help organize research that increases understand about interacting ecological and societal processes, predicts change, and supports the management, persistence, and resilience of coastal systems. The Driver–Pressure–State–Impact–Response (DPSIR) framework is one such approach that has been adopted in some coastal zones around the world. Although the application of the DPSIR framework has considerable potential to bridge the gap between scientific disciplines and link science to coastal policy and management, current applications of DPSIR in coastal environments have been limited and new innovations in the application of the DPSIR model are needed. We conducted a structured review of literature on the DPSIR framework as applied to the function, process and components of complex coastal systems.

Crossing boundaries: complex systems, transdisciplinarity and applied impact agendas
This 2015 paper by David Simon and Friedrich Schiemer highlights the challenges of distilling generalizable principles and guidelines for sustainable co-management arrangements and demonstrating the practical impact of the underlying research.  The authors note that growing demand for such applied research by official funding agencies is linked to the requirements of policy relevance and ‘research impact’. The paper reminds us that successful applied research requires ongoing user engagement throughout a project. But equally this is both a solution and a challenge – as ongoing user engagement is often hard to achieve, especially when diverse stakeholders have sharply different power, knowledge and interests.

Bridging 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.

Disciplining 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.

Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) portal
This website managed and curated by Gabriele Bammer looks to provide concepts and methods for conducting research on complex, real-world problems. It supports researchers (i2S specialists) who contribute to cross-disciplinary teams tackling challenging social and environmental problems, providing information on tools approaches and networks. There is a companion Integration and Implementation Insights blog (I2Insights blog) where members of the i2S community highlight tools they have developed or use regularly.

The 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.

Building 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 activities 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.

Defining 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.”

Leading interdisciplinary research : transforming the academic landscape – a stimulus paper
This 2014 paper by Tom McLeish and Veronica Strang considers the complex challenges entailed in leading and developing interdisciplinary research (IDR) and suggests that, while structural support is vital, cultural change may be equally critical. It articulates the practices and principles that underlie successful IDR, and discusses organisational change that can assist such research developments – both in practical ways and through cultural and ideological change.

Integrating the social and natural sciences in environmental research: a discussion paper
An earlier 2007 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.

Epistemological 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.

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.

Getting 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.

From 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.

Participatory 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.)

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.

Introduction 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.

Other related pages to outcomes and social learning-based approaches where inter- and transdisciplinary approaches and tools may be used include systemic design, adaptive management and action research. Related tools can be found from the above menu bar and include stakeholder mapping and analysis, theory of change and scenarios and visioning.