Many projects implemented a collaborative approach among researchers and stakeholders to create a mutual understanding of the issues studied and of each other's methods and lines of thought.
This was frequently realised through discussion, reflection, shared evaluation of findings and joint publications. Researchers developed common frameworks for the research and jointly designed and adapted methods. Some researchers took this even further and engaged in cross-disciplinary activities, swapping roles during data gathering or carrying out fieldwork together. This led to more holistic assessments of problems, systems and technologies, and more rounded framing and interpretation of core concepts.
The trading zone of microbiology and politics
More sustainable means of plant protection are needed that enable food security whilst also protecting the environment.
Although chemical pesticides have often attracted controversy, viable biological alternatives have been slow to come onto the market. Commercial take-up has been relatively limited, in part because of the limited availability of suitable products. One reason for this is that the regulatory process was designed to cope with synthetic products and had difficulty in adjusting to the difficult requirements for registering biopesticides.
Scientific understanding of plants and insects, and their interaction with and possible impacts on beneficial insects, was essential to the expertise of this project. It was also necessary to draw on political scientists' knowledge of regulatory processes and the way in which their design and implementation is affected by stakeholders, including private governance initiatives by retailers.
The microbiologists and political scientists engaged in the project needed to have an understanding of each other's discipline to facilitate interdisciplinary working. The two literatures were written in very different ways, with political science literature being more discursive than the tersely written life sciences literature. Each discipline had its own particular terminology. It was therefore necessary to establish a 'trading zone' to facilitate understanding of each discipline's methodologies.
Each group of natural and social scientists read selected articles from the other discipline relevant to the project and then reported back to the next team meeting on their understanding and interpretation of the article and what they thought its significant points were. This helped to clear up any misunderstandings about terminology and also permitted a fuller understanding of the substantive goals and methodological procedures of each discipline. It helped to create a shared interdisciplinary space in which both disciplines felt comfortable.
It facilitated considerably the greatest practical challenge of all: writing coherently and accessibly together, particularly for the book the project produced. It helped the team reach out successfully to diverse audiences of stakeholders and academics.
The role of regulation in developing biological
alternatives to pesticides
Wyn Grant, Warwick University
Swapping roles and much more
The researchers set out to provide data and methods to support decisions by organisations with responsibility for the management of floodplains as they seek to balance competing demands such as food production, nature conservation and flood risk management. Such organisations include government agencies, regional drainage organisations, farmers and their associations, and conservation bodies.
The project required continual integration of social, economic, ecological and engineering perspectives, with the management of flooding as the core focus. The team developed analytical methods that combined biophysical and ecological assessments, hydrological modelling, appraisal of engineering options, and economic valuation of outcomes. Interdisciplinary integration was advanced by close and shared working amongst researchers. They swapped roles during data collection and analysis, did team field visits and jointly prepared and delivered presentations and publications to report findings.
Using eight floodplain sites in England, they carried out detailed monitoring of floodplain water levels to construct a hydrological model that predicted water table levels based on rainfall and site conditions. Linked to this, the tolerances of different types of agricultural crops and 'natural' vegetation species to seasonal flooding and water table height were derived based on science literature and site observations. This informed the analysis of land use scenarios which prioritise different outcomes, such as food, nature conservation or flood control.
The project developed a framework of 14 indicators of ecosystem services such as food production, carbon storage, flood storage, biodiversity and recreation; which clearly identifies the potential synergies and trade-offs amongst different benefits as land use changes.
Together with the Relu project on farming and biodiversity, a novel stakeholder mapping tool was developed to assess the range of interests and influences in floodplains. This demonstrates how stakeholder interests tend to focus on particular ecosystem services and how the interactions amongst stakeholder interests might be managed so as to realise more value from floodplains.
Integrated management of floodplains
Joe Morris, Cranfield University