Environmental Management

, Volume 62, Issue 6, pp 1025–1037 | Cite as

Facilitating Integration in Interdisciplinary Research: Lessons from a South Florida Water, Sustainability, and Climate Project

  • Alicia L. LanierEmail author
  • Jillian R. Drabik
  • Tanya Heikkila
  • Jessica Bolson
  • Michael C. Sukop
  • David W. Watkins
  • Jennifer Rehage
  • Ali Mirchi
  • Victor Engel
  • David Letson


Interdisciplinary research is increasingly called upon to find solutions to complex sustainability problems, yet co-creating usable knowledge can be challenging. This article offers broad lessons for conducting interdisciplinary science from the South Florida Water, Sustainability, and Climate Project (SFWSC), a 5-year project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal was to develop a holistic decision-making framework to improve understanding of the complex natural–social system of South Florida water allocation and its threats from climate change, including sea level rise, using a water resources optimization model as an integration mechanism. The SFWSC project faced several challenges, including uncertainty with tasks, high task interdependence, and ensuring communication among geographically dispersed members. Our hypothesis was that adaptive techniques would help overcome these challenges and maintain scientific rigor as research evolved. By systematically evaluating the interdisciplinary management approach throughout the project, we learned that integration can be supported by a three-pronged approach: (1) Build a well-defined team and leadership structure for collaboration across geographic distance and disciplines, ensuring adequate coordination funding, encouraging cross-pollination, and allowing team structure to adapt; (2) intentionally design a process and structure for facilitating collaboration, creating mechanisms for routine analysis, and incorporating collaboration tools that foster communication; and (3) support integration within the scientific framework, by using a shared research output, and encouraging team members to adapt when facing unanticipated constraints. These lessons contribute to the international body of knowledge on interdisciplinary research and can assist teams attempting to develop sustainable solutions in complex natural–social systems.


Interdisciplinary science Team science Collaboration Adaptive management Knowledge co-production 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. EAR-1204762, EAR-1204780, and EAR-1204474. This research was conducted in collaboration with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Grant No. DEB-1237517. This is contribution number 884 from the Southeast Environmental Research Center in the Institute of Water & Environment at Florida International University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alicia L. Lanier
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jillian R. Drabik
    • 2
  • Tanya Heikkila
    • 3
  • Jessica Bolson
    • 4
  • Michael C. Sukop
    • 4
  • David W. Watkins
    • 5
  • Jennifer Rehage
    • 4
  • Ali Mirchi
    • 6
  • Victor Engel
    • 7
  • David Letson
    • 8
  1. 1.Lanier Consulting, LLCMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and PolicyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  3. 3.School of Public AffairsUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  4. 4.Department of Earth and EnvironmentFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  5. 5.Department of Civil & Environmental EngineeringMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  6. 6.Department of Biosystems and Agricultural EngineeringOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  7. 7.U.S. Forest ServiceFort CollinsUSA
  8. 8.RSMAS, Department of Marine Ecosystems and SocietyUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

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