Main content area

Joint problem framing in sustainable land use research

Schäfer, Martina, Kröger, Melanie
Land use policy 2016 v.57 pp. 526-539
land use, research projects, scientists
Land use is an important field of interest regarding sustainability transformations. Research projects which deal with the multiple dimensions of sustainable land use usually apply an inter- and transdisciplinary design and are confronted with challenges of integrating heterogeneous knowledge.In this paper we refer to experience we had during the ELaN project, which followed a systemic approach by linking research on water and land management. Due to this relatively uncommon approach it was necessary to bring together scientists and practical actors as well as distributed knowledge from different areas of expertise. Considering the heterogeneity of the actors it was of great importance to establish a shared understanding of the research problem the project was to deal with during the initial phase. For this step the method of Constellation Analysis (CA) was applied: a visualisation and analysis tool which aims at joint problem framing by focusing on the dominant elements of a social-ecological problem and their relations in a discursive process. Due to the size of the project team and the necessity to involve a broad range of actors, a group of scientists led the iterative process and prepared CA drafts which were validated by practitioners. This design can be categorised as ‘consulting’ rather than ‘participatory’ transdisciplinarity. Proceeding this way can be seen as a compromise between more intense forms of transdisciplinary exchange and forms that are manageable when considering time and resource constraints in third-party funded projects.CA has proven to be a suitable tool for organising processes of mutual understanding between heterogeneous actors and fostering social integration in inter- and transdisciplinary research groups. In ELaN the main benefit of the process was an adjustment and enrichment of problem framing which was formulated in the project proposal thus contributing to integrated system knowledge as a basis for the interdisciplinary project consortium and involved practitioners. The insights gained during this process led to changes in the design of some of the sub-projects as well as the targeted end products. This experience confirms the importance of a structured process of joint problem framing in inter- and transdisciplinary projects, especially for thematic fields of such high complexity as land use research.