How to Achieve Effectiveness in Problem-Oriented Landscape Research: The Example of Research on Biotic Invasions

Christoph Kueffer 
Department of Botany, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, U.S.A. &
Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, Berne, Switzerland &
Institute of Integrative Biology, Department of Environmental Sciences,
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland

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Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn 
Institute for Environmental Decisions, Department of Environmental Sciences,
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland &
Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, Berne, Switzerland

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It is increasingly expected from environmental research such as landscape research that science directly contributes to the solving of pressing societal problems. However, despite increased efforts to direct research towards societal problems, it is not obvious if science has become more effective in supporting environmental problem-solving. We present in this article a framework that facilitates the analysis and design of problem-orientation in research fields. We then apply the proposed framework to a concrete example of a problem-oriented landscape research field – namely research on biotic invasions. Invasion research addresses the problem that some organisms, that have been introduced by humans to a new geographic area where they were previously not present, spread in the landscape and pose negative impacts.

We argue that problem-oriented research is more than applied research. Besides research on specific questions it also encompasses boundary management, i.e., deliberations among experts and stakeholders on the framing of adequate research questions about processes, values and practices for effective problem-solving. We postulate that such research may assist problem-solving in three ways, by analysing causal relationships (systems knowledge), clarifying conflicts of interests and values (target knowledge), or contributing to the development of appropriate means for action (transformation knowledge).

We show that over the past decades a broad range of different research approaches has emerged in the young field of invasion research in order to produce systems, target and transformation knowledge for invasive species management. Early research in the field was dominated by the development of systems knowledge, but increasingly the three knowledge forms are treated more equally. The research field has also become more interdisciplinary and context-specific.

Boundary management in invasion research is mainly restricted to informal networks (communities of practice), while formal processes such as transdisciplinary research are scarce. We suggest that the paucity of structured and explicit boundary management processes will limit the future development of a more effective science for invasive species management. In particular, we envisage three obstacles that can only be removed through explicit boundary management. First, the existing theoretical frameworks are currently only partly able to integrate natural and social sciences research on the processes underlying invasions. Second, a clarification of the normative thinking about alien plant invasions is needed. Third, research on transformation knowledge has so far not fundamentally challenged the existing conceptual framing and institutional setup of invasive species management.

Keywords: transdisciplinary research, boundary management, biotic invasions

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