Developing sustainable water and land management options: reflections on a transdisciplinary research process

Abstract

Knowledge production for sustainable land management requires close cooperation between research and practice. Drawing on insights from the ELaN project, which has developed a set of products to foster integrated water and land management in Northeast Germany, this paper compares two specific transdisciplinary research processes, seeking to obtain a clearer picture of what influences the acceptance and up-take of generated research products beyond methodological considerations of transdisciplinary research design and stakeholder interaction. We highlight differences in intensity of transdisciplinary interaction and resulting product quality with regard to two main project outcomes: a manual for administrators and a decision-support system (DSS) for farmers. While the development of the manual was characterised by intensive exchange with practitioners, co-production of knowledge and mutual learning, the design and development of the DSS was mainly pushed by researchers with sporadic practice interaction. Beside differences in participatory design, the practical relevance of the manual increased throughout the project due to political changes on the European level, whereas socio-political demand for the DSS did not change substantially. We discuss the relevance of appropriate transdisciplinary project management versus the significance of surrounding context conditions for increasing the societal relevance of outcomes and formulate recommendations for enhancing transdisciplinary research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In the subprojects dealing with the regeneration of fenlands, the use of treated waste water was only one option for the increase of groundwater levels, with the other one being a modified management of surface and ground water levels.

  2. 2.

    In this period, four meetings of the advisory board took place in total, but only two of them focused on ElaN end products.

  3. 3.

    Using treated waste water for irrigation of agriculturally cultivated land is permitted in the sanitary districts of Wolfsburg and Braunschweig (Germany). Representatives of these districts were part of the advisory board for the ELaN project.

  4. 4.

    However, these subprojects did not primarily deal with the use of treated waste water but rather considered applying waste water as one option for increasing groundwater levels.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge project funding by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research within its Sustainable Land Management Program (2011–2015).

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Correspondence to Carsten Mann.

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Handled by Arnim Wiek, Arizona State University, USA.

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Mann, C., Schäfer, M. Developing sustainable water and land management options: reflections on a transdisciplinary research process. Sustain Sci 13, 205–217 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0451-3

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Keywords

  • Transdisciplinary research
  • Participation
  • Knowledge integration
  • Meta-reflection
  • Sustainable land management
  • Risk assessment
  • Decision-support system
  • Water reuse