Modes of sustainability-related research in comparison (MONA): Modes of research and their impact on scientific and societal project outcomes - a comparative analysis of 100 third-party funded sustainability-related research projects

Project: Research

Project participants


For about two decades, new modes of scholarly research have been promoted under labels such as 'post-normal science', 'new modes of knowledge production' and 'transdisciplinarity'. They aim to effectively deal with societally relevant problems, to strengthen the legitimacy of research through participation of non-scientists and to produce 'socially robust' knowledge. Key elements include collaboration across scientific disciplines, a focus on real-world problems and the involvement of actors from government, administration, business and/or civil society in the research process. Research programmes focusing on sustainability issues have been particularly active in adopting these new research modes. Whereas transdisciplinary research projects have often been evaluated individually, no comparative study on the actually employed research modes and the scholarly as well as societal outcomes of a larger number of research projects is available to date.

MONA will be the first study aimed at a comprehensive comparison of projects with different research modes, and their outputs. The empirical basis is provided by approximately 100 completed third-party funded research projects. In order to allow for a high variation of research modes, half of this sample will comprise projects under funding programmes of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a particular emphasis on the programme 'Social-Ecological Research' (SÖF), while the other half will comprise sustainability-related projects under individual and co-ordinated programmes of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The study will pursue research objectives on three levels:
1. Topography of research modes: Drawing on the studied sample of projects, the research modes actually in use will be mapped in relation to criteria such as interdisciplinarity, focus on real-world problems and the involvement of non-scientists. This will also allow for testing as to whether projects from different research funding contexts actually differ regarding their research modes.
2. Relationship between research mode and output: Drawing on a set of hypotheses, the extent to which different research modes differ in their scholarly and societal outputs and outcomes, and the extent to which the parallel pursuit of scholarly and societal goals is conducive to success in both realms will be tested. A large-N study will analyse the whole sample, based on a document analysis and selective interviews. An in-depth study will focus on approx. eight projects (half BMBF, half DFG) in greater detail.
3. Evaluation methodology: By developing indicators for assessing research modes and scholarly and societal project outputs and outcomes, MONA will substantially contribute to methodological enhancement of the evaluation of (transdisciplinary) research projects.