Exploring the promises of transdisciplinary research: A quantitative study of two climate research programmes

Stefan P. L. de Jong*, Tjerk Wardenaar, Edwin Horlings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Scientists have long since become accustomed to explaining the future value of their work. Nowadays token statements are no longer sufficient. Societal impact must be embedded in the organisation of research. The call for societal impact is most explicitly expressed in and actively shaped by trans disciplinary research programmes. We have examined two questions related to compliance in the principal-agent relation between a programme and its projects. The first question concerns the risk of moral hazard: is societal actor involvement a token activity or a substantial component of the research process? The second question relates to possible adverse selection: does societal actor involvement produce the expected benefits and, if so, under which conditions? We surveyed members and project leaders of 178 projects in two transdisciplinary climate research programmes in The Netherlands. There is no reason to suspect large-scale moral hazard. Projects formally labelled as transdisciplinary have characteristics typically associated with transdisciplinarity but academic projects share those characteristics. Neither is there reason to suspect adverse selection. The archetypical properties of transdisciplinary research are associated with the expected societal benefits. An important finding is that there are different types of benefit, each of which requires its own approach. Benefit is achieved through informal involvement and a diversity of outputs, and much less by giving societal actors a prominent role or influence in the research process. Based on our conclusions we recommend customizing the design of climate research programmes and projects towards the needs of the specific societal benefits they aim to generate and reconsidering the emphasis on formal involvement of societal actors in funding procedures. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1409
Number of pages13
JournalResearch Policy: A Journal devoted to Research Policy, Research Management and Planning
Volume45
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Societal impact
  • Transdisciplinary research
  • Societal actor involvement
  • Principal-agent theory
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Climate research
  • SOCIAL-SCIENCE RESEARCH
  • KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER
  • PRODUCTIVE INTERACTIONS
  • STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
  • ENVIRONMENTAL-RESEARCH
  • HEALTH RESEARCH
  • IMPACT
  • POLICY
  • PARTICIPATION
  • UNIVERSITIES

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