Our program is guided by three main research activities with the purpose of developing a theoretical and empirical foundation to advance the knowledge base on sustainability research effectiveness.

  1. Exploring Theories of Social Change as they Apply to Research and Knowledge Translation: Sustainability science emerged from the need to produce more useful scientific knowledge to facilitate sustainable development and to help generate changes in policy and practice. We work on strengthening the theoretical foundations for effective research practices in conjunction with empirical examination about the extent to which sustainability research is effective at contributing to change.
  2. Developing and Refining Concepts of Effective Research Design and Implementation: As the nature of research evolves and crosses disciplinary boundaries, traditional definitions, criteria and measures of research quality are no longer sufficient. The program is working to help develop new and more appropriate assessment tools to help design and evaluate inter- and transdisciplinary research by Characterizing Transdisciplinary Research Quality for Effective Design, Implementation, and Assessment.
  3. Case Study and Comparative Analyses of Completed Research Projects: There has been a rapid increase in innovative research approaches that aim to make research more engaged, pluralistic and democratic, to be more effective. This creates a tremendous opportunity to analyze and learn from these natural experiments. Our program is conducting a series of “outcome evaluation” case studies in which we characterize research design and implementation (using the transdisciplinary quality assessment framework), analyze underlying theoretical assumptions and assessing and evidencing research outcomes and impact to determine to what extent and how research outcomes are achieved.

We are doing this work in collaboration with our partners to analyze large scale research projects (Case Study Analyses of Completed International Research for development Projects), and at Royal Roads University (Case Study Analyses of Royal Roads Student Research) to acquire a better understanding of research effectiveness in a higher education context.

Together with comparative case study analyses, these activities help us understand how to Increase Effectiveness in Sustainability Research.

Case Study Analyses of Royal Roads Student Research

Royal Roads has an explicit mission to contribute to transformation in the careers and lives of its students and alumni through applied research that solves problems and creates opportunities. To inform practice, it is necessary to know more about current practice, and specifically about how RRU graduate research contributes to change. More work is needed to improve our theoretical and empirical understanding of the means and mechanisms by which research contributes to change processes, and inform how to design and implement research to be more effective in a higher education context.

Characterizing Transdisciplinary Research Quality for Effective Design, Implementation and Assessment

Research is often evaluated on the basis of publications, citations, and peer assessment. In the absence of a comprehensive guide, many evaluating bodies, including funding bodies, rely on conventional discipline-specific measures of quality which may disadvantage transdisciplinary and applied research. As such, assessments of research effectiveness may not adequately capture important research outcomes and contributions to change. We therefore need to understand the components of transdisciplinary research quality for robust and representative assessments.

Case Study Analyses of Completed International Research-for-Development Projects and Programs

Scientific research aims to generate new knowledge. Research projects and programs also strive for excellence by means of impact. New transdisciplinary approaches are emerging that place research around the knowledge needs and interests of stakeholders. In doing so, they aim to co-produce more relevant and applicable knowledge. However, as these approaches develop and engage amidst complex systems, it has been difficult to know what works, how, and why.

Increasing Effectiveness in Sustainability Research: Comparative Analysis

As transdisciplinary approaches are developing and because they engage in complex systems, it has been difficult to know what works, how, and why. We aim to learn lessons about what makes research effective to inform and improve future research through a comparative analysis of our case studies, with a particular focus on research project design, implementation, and outcomes.