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What counts for transferability of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research?

English title What counts for transferability of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research?
Applicant Pohl Christian
Number 162781
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution ETH Zentrum USYS TdLab
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.03.2016 - 31.12.2018
Approved amount 158'525.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Social geography and ecology

Keywords (9)

criteria; transdisciplinary research; transferability across cases; research quality; policy relevance; evaluation; evidence-based policy making; case study; policy relevance

Lay Summary (German)

In der transdisziplinären Forschung untersuchen Forschende zusammen mit Stakeholdern aus der Region einen konkreten Fall. Ob die dabei gewonnenen Erkenntnisse auf vergleichbare Fälle übertragen werden, und welche Überlegungen dabei anzustellen wären, sind ungeklärte Fragen.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

In der transdisziplinären Forschung arbeiten Forschende zusammen mit Akteuren aus der Zivilgesellschaft, dem öffentlichem und dem privaten Sektor. Gemeinsam untersuchen sie ein gesellschaftlich relevantes Problem anhand eines konkreten Falles. Einerseits ist es wichtig aus jedem dieser Fällen zu lernen. Andererseits ist aber auch Vorsicht geboten, denn es ist unklar unter welchen Bedingungen das aus einem Fall über das Problem gewonnene Wissen auf einen anderen Fall übertragen werden kann. In unserem Projekt untersuchen wir diese Übertragbarkeit von Wissen. In einem ersten Schritt gehen wir der Frage nach, ob, und wenn ja welche Erkenntnisse die am Projekt beteiligten Forschenden und Stakeholder auf andere Fälle übertragen. Ebenso untersuchen wir, welche Überlegungen zur Übertragbarkeit sie dabei anstellen. In einem zweiten Schritt suchen wir in diesen Überlegungen nach Mustern und versuchen diese Muster bestimmten Gruppen von Personen mit Bezug zur transdisziplinären Forschung zuzuweisen.


Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Die gesellschaftliche Bedeutung unserer Forschung liegt im kritischen Blick den wir auf Wissen über ein Problem werfen, das aus einem Fall gewonnen und auf einen anderen Fall übertragen wird. Unsere Forschung wird zeigen, ob Forschende und Stakeholder solche Übertragungen machen, und ob sie die dabei notwenigen Überlegungen anstellen. Innerhalb der transdisziplinären Forschung leisten wir einen Beitrag zur Diskussion der Qualität der Ergebnisse, bzw. zur Frage, unter welchen Bedingungen die Ergebnisse auf andere Fälle übertragen werden können.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.03.2016

Lay Summary (English)

In transdisciplinary research, researchers examine a concrete case together with stakeholders from the region. Whether lessons learned are applicable to similar cases elsewhere, and what considerations apply, remain unresolved issues.
Lay summary

Content and objective of the research project

In transdisciplinary research, researchers work with actors from civil society, the public and private sectors. Together they investigate a socially relevant problem based on a concrete case. On the one hand it is important to learn from each of these cases. On the other hand, however, it is unclear under what conditions the knowledge gained from a specific case on a given problem can be transferred to another case. In our project we investigate this transferability of knowledge. First, we ask if considerations for knowledge transfer are present, and if so, which findings are considered transferable by researchers and stakeholders involved in the project. Second, we will look for patterns in researchers’ and stakeholders’ considerations and try to assign these patterns to particular groups of perspectives of those involved in transdisciplinary research.


Scientific and societal context

The social significance of our research is a critical view on how co-production of knowledge about a problem in a specific case applies to another case. Our research aims to show whether researchers and stakeholders make such claims on knowledge transfer, and if they do, what considerations apply. For transdisciplinarity, we contribute to the discussion of quality in transdisciplinary research results, specifically on the question of conditions under which results can be applied to other cases.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.03.2016

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Conceptualizing the transfer of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research
Adler Carolina, Hirsch Hadorn Gertrude, Breu Thomas, Wiesmann Urs, Pohl Christian (2017), Conceptualizing the transfer of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research, in Sustainability Science, 13(1), 179-190.


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
International Science Council France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo Norway (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Department of Geography, University of Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Climate Reporting and Adaptation Section, Federal Office for the Environment Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand (Oceania)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Earth System Governance Conference 2018: Governning global sustainability in a complex world Talk given at a conference How Do We Know It Works, and Could It Work Elsewhere? An Empirical Exploration on What Is Considered Transferable Across Cases 05.11.2018 Utrecht, Netherlands Adler Carolina;
International Transdisciplinarity Conference (IDT 2017) Talk given at a conference What type of knowledge is transferred across transdisciplinary case studies? Preliminary results from a study on transferability in transdisciplinary research 11.09.2017 Lunerburg, Germany Adler Carolina;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
125216 Structuring the science-policy nexus in sustainability research 01.04.2009 Interdisciplinary projects


The objective of this research is to contribute to a better understanding of how transfer of knowledge across cases in TD research takes place, thereby improving the quality of transformation knowledge on global environmental change (GEC). GEC encompasses numerous processes in human-environment systems (e.g. land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services, climate change, globalisation and migration). While many of these processes interlink at global scales, their impacts manifest and are felt differently across regions, given context-specific and diverse natural and social factors. Consequently, transformation knowledge on GEC, i.e. knowledge on policy options to deal with the effects and impacts of GEC, combines numerous disciplines, necessitating inter- and transdisciplinary research.Transdisciplinary (TD) research inter-relates knowledge on GEC and policy through original research, providing policy-relevant knowledge, i.e. knowledge needed to successfully address problems in policy processes. Switzerland has played a key role in promoting and elaborating on TD research on GEC and sustainable development, within policy-oriented funding schemes such as National Research Programs (NRP) and the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). In TD research, researchers and policymakers interact during the whole process of knowledge co-production on a problem of policy relevance in a specific context. Through knowledge co-production, researchers and policymakers inter-relate understanding of systems (systems knowledge), considerations of interests and goals (target knowledge) and policy options (transformation knowledge). However, a core issue that has not yet received much research attention is whether one can infer that knowledge co-produced in a particular social and regional context is also applicable in another context, and if so how. Transferability of knowledge across cases is a critical issue for the overall quality of TD research, given that inference on the application of knowledge for another case is often done on implicit assumptions. However, a systematic discussion of transferability between cases is missing.To initiate and substantiate this discussion empirically, the proposed project seeks to reveal and analyse considerations on transferability across cases that researchers and policymakers, collectively termed knowledge producers, make about findings resulting from their TD research. We do this analysis through an interdisciplinary collaboration, using existing evaluation criteria for TD research and epistemic standards in philosophy of science as conceptual starting points. Using a mixed methods approach, at least two knowledge producers from up to 10 Swiss TD GEC projects will first be interviewed to identify and reveal their considerations on transferability across cases, followed by a systematic analysis on diversity of perspectives on these considerations. For the latter, Q-methodology will be used and administered as an online-survey. Participants for the survey will include knowledge producers interviewed, members of international Scientific Committees in GEC platforms such as Future Earth, as well as end users of TD research, allowing a broader scope of research experiences and perspectives to be considered (approximately n=70). The expected scientific impact of this research is to enable an empirically informed and conceptually structured development of TD methodology regarding transferability of knowledge across cases as a key and integral quality criteria in TD research. The expected broader impact is to contribute to a better understanding and accounting of quality in scientific knowledge that deals with real-world problems while accounting for context-specific and diverse natural and social factors.