R-12/08 Conducting integrated research: A critical literature review of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research

Integrated research is being seen by an increasing number of researchers as having failed to deliver on its considerable promise for scientific learning. Yet, the need for developing integrated research projects to tackle increasingly complex social-ecological issues has never been higher. Because the rapid expansion of integrated research programs is a relatively new phenomenon, understanding of how to conduct integrated research remains in its infancy. The report provides a critical perspective on the nature of integrated research, an assessment of its contemporary critiques, and an outline of key elements of ‘best practice’ in integrated studies. It builds on an extensive review of literature undertaken as part of a research programme funded by AgResearch ‘Developing socio-ecological systems research capability’ that was extended during a Norwegian exchange as a part of a strategic institute program ‘Natural resources in forest and mountain communities – between marginalisation, commercialisation and conservation’, funded by the Research Council of Norway. Some conclusions: There are fundamental issues concerning the legitimacy of integrated research that are yet to be resolved - i.e. who are the ‘gate-keepers’ and who validates integrated research? Further, there is considerable confusion within the literature concerning what the terms inter-, trans- and multidisciplinarity mean – with various researchers establishing different definitions. The report develops suggestions for the construction of an integrated research program that addresses the key challenges and delivers ‘effective integrated research’.

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