Integrative science in practice: Process perspectives from ASB, the Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins

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Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment
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ASB, the Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, is a decade-old, complex, multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary, multi-site research and development consortium. It has been recognized for its success in producing scientific outputs and real world impacts and as a pioneer in integrated natural resource management (iNRM). Until now, there has been little understanding of the reasons for its success in integrating different perspectives and ways of working. To fill this gap, an on-line consultation involving ASB researchers was structured following an analytical framework developed by the Initiative on Science and Technology for Sustainability. The structure of the presentation of major results presented in this article also follows that framework, which includes four dimensions of integration (disciplinary, functional, spatial/temporal, and knowledge) and linked challenges of institutional learning and adaptation, fostering appropriate participation, and managing resource and capacity constraints. To lay the foundations for interpreting these insights and to motivate the study, introductory sections present qualitative evidence regarding organizational learning within the consortium (using research hypotheses as indicators) and success in producing integrated results (using a selection of research results as evidence).This report on ASB's experience in integrative science and organizational learning is intended to advance understanding of the scope and limits of a complex international consortium to integrate activities across disciplines, organizations, scales and knowledge systems in order to produce knowledge and policy relevant outputs. ASB's processes and structures have weaknesses as well as strengths. And while there almost certainly are a range of effective alternative approaches to integrative science, the insights from ASB's experience documented in these online discussions could be of interest to other geographically dispersed teams, especially those working on environment and development issues. Moreover, from a methodological perspective, the use of information technology reported in this article proved to be an effective means of triangulating the perceptions of geographically dispersed researchers. In doing so, this web-based consultation provided a medium for reflection by a large 'virtual team' on whether words about integration are translated into practice, at least as perceived and self-reported by the scientists who participated. These techniques could be employed for process documentation by other dispersed teams, thereby adding to the stock of information on what works (and what does not) in efforts to put integrative science into practice on a significant scale. (c) 2007 Published by Elsevier B.V.


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DOI 10.1016/j.agee.2006.12.015