On the road to ‘research municipalities’: analysing transdisciplinarity in municipal ecosystem services and adaptation planning

Ebba Brink, Christine Wamsler, Maria Adolfsson, Monica Axelsson, Thomas Beery, Helena Björn, Torleif Bramryd, Nils Ekelund, Therese Jephson, Widar Narvelo, Barry Ness, K. Ingemar Jönsson, Thomas Palo, Magnus Sjeldrup, Sanna Stålhammar, Geraldine Thiere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transdisciplinary research and collaboration is widely acknowledged as a critical success factor for solution-oriented approaches that can tackle complex sustainability challenges, such as biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate-related hazards. In this context, city governments’ engagement in transdisciplinarity is generally seen as a key condition for societal transformation towards sustainability. However, empirical evidence is rare. This paper presents a self-assessment of a joint research project on ecosystem services and climate adaptation planning (ECOSIMP) undertaken by four universities and seven Swedish municipalities. We apply a set of design principles and guiding questions for transdisciplinary sustainability projects and, on this basis, identify key aspects for supporting university–municipality collaboration. We show that: (1) selecting the number and type of project stakeholders requires more explicit consideration of the purpose of societal actors’ participation; (2) concrete, interim benefits for participating practitioners and organisations need to be continuously discussed; (3) promoting the ‘inter’, i.e., interdisciplinary and inter-city learning, can support transdisciplinarity and, ultimately, urban sustainability and long-term change. In this context, we found that design principles for transdisciplinarity have the potential to (4) mitigate project shortcomings, even when transdisciplinarity is not an explicit aim, and (5) address differences and allow new voices to be heard. We propose additional guiding questions to address shortcomings and inspire reflexivity in transdisciplinary projects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-784
Number of pages20
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number3
Early online date2017 Nov 16
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Apr 29

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Free keywords

  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Ecosystem services
  • Project assessment
  • Urban planning


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