Our research rests on the worldview that the biosphere forms the critical life-support system underpinning human and social development. Humanity is an integral part of this biosphere, dependent for human wellbeing upon the ecosystem services it provides, but is also transforming its structure and functioning at unprecedented speed and scale. The overarching mission has from its inception been to mobilize and integrate diverse expertise in pursuance of research capable of addressing this challenge. Achieving such a mission requires developing and implementing research strategies, organizational structures, and team-building processes that enable, support and stimulate creativity, innovation, and cutting-edge research, ranging from disciplinary, to interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary.
Inter- and transdisciplinary work and innovation is complex and challenging. It depends fundamentally on drawing together experts with divergent competencies to perform concertedly and effectively in teams (Cooley 1994; Blackwell et al. 2009), and so requires collaborators to manage and profitably harness disciplinary differences in terms of values, assumption, methodologies, and the complex team dynamics that result from them (Lowe and Phillipson 2009). Teams can easily end up in a state of confusion due to differences in conceptual frames and divergent levels of power and scientific legitimacy accorded to different fields. This is particularly the case between the natural and social sciences (Lele and Norgaard 2005; Strang 2009). Moreover, divergent professional rewards systems and organizational mandates can challenge and stymie participation when they differ among individual collaborators (Parker and Crona 2012).
The Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) has developed explicit strategies for overcoming such challenges while minimizing internal competition, promoting an organizational climate of ‘collective action for the common good’, with trust, sharing perspectives and new ideas and stimulating the emergence of exploration of new research directions and hypotheses.
Framed creativity and the structuring of a research organization
SRC’s organizational design was informed by the notion of ‘framed creativity’ (Folke et al. 2003). Framed creativity applies a clearly articulated vision as a guiding framework (or ‘pole star’) defining a problem space in which creativity and innovation are allowed to flourish. SRC’s vision and the focus on humans as part of the biosphere, i.e. the social-ecological perspective, informs and guides Centre research, enabling cohesion, unity of purpose, and the distillation and synthesis of diverse theories, methods, and data.
SRC’s organizational structure is thematically organized and the themes and streams are broadly reflective of the diverse skill sets contained within SRC and the complexity of current social-ecological challenges. SRC research themes and streams promote an organizational climate of ‘collective action for the common good’, and have been strategically adapted over time to reflect new insights and research developments.
Research identity, innovation and social capital
The leadership has made a concerted effort at promoting trust and building social capital among researchers and students alike by framing the themes as collaborative learning platforms and rewarding collaboration. This collaborative environment and the trust and interaction it evokes are hallmarks of SRC research and consistently noted as key features attracting international researchers to the centre.
The social processes which best catalyze inter- and transdisciplinary creativity are small, highly diverse, intensely focused working group collaborations (Stokols et al. 2008; Hampton and Parker 2011). Such processes are employed in all Centre research. It is within these small, purposeful, face-to‐face groups that the innovative process occurs and scientific ideas are scrutinized and vetted and seeds for emergence of new understanding are sown. They enable rapid and efficient communication and decision making, while also serving as intellectual filters for decisions about methods, research questions and theoretical approaches within nascent research areas (Hackett et al. 2008). Inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration requires time to build trust and sufficient resources to permit researchers the freedom to develop novel ideas.
SRC has developed budgetary strategies to encourage and support its research. For instance, inter and intra thematic pursuits are funded via regularly occurring workshops in which theme leaders meet to elicit and integrate general insights (be they substantive, methodological or theoretical). Funds are also earmarked for supporting and (later) evaluating high-risk but potentially transformative research. Additionally, funds are made available for contacting and collaborating with high-profile international scholars with cognate interests and abilities. SRC research and team efforts are often conducted in collaborative workshops engaging external scientists. This approach allows SRC to maintain its ability to shape the research frontier of sustainability science and resilience thinking as a partner in international academic and political networks.
In sum, SRC has actively designed, implemented, and adaptively modified strategies for overcoming challenges of inter-and transdisciplinary research. Teams and research centres who are able to create a distinctive research identity or brand allowing them to communicate both inwards and outwards are more successful (Blackwell et al. 2009). Such identities are based not only on a common location, but on characteristic research styles, techniques and theories (Hackett 2005). SRC has developed such a research identity as one of the characteristic features of its operations, based on a shared vision, an overall attractor for research efforts applied as a way to frame creativity.
Within this frame SRC supports teams and their leaders to work towards a common goal while allowing for sufficient flexibility to explore new territory and to identify and capitalize on serendipitous insights. Efforts have been made to promote a creative, innovative, curiosity-driven research culture and environment. Such strategies and resultant practices resonate with the qualities shared by teams that are successful in promoting innovation and creativity (Blackwell et al. 2009).
2011-12 Research insights