QUEST: Capturing Lessons for Interdisciplinarity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science


There is increasing emphasis, nationally and internationally, on interdisciplinary research in order to tackle some of the world's most pressing environmental and social problems. In the UK, we are witnessing a significant increase in planned funding for strategic interdisciplinary programmes but the lessons arising from such initiatives can be hard to capture and codify. QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth SysTem) is one of NERC's flagship programmes for Earth system science. As this programme approaches its close, NERC is keen to assess the effectiveness of QUEST's activities in interdisciplinarity (including community building) in the context of global environmental change. By taking an in-depth look at QUEST, in conjunction with potentially comparable interdisciplinary initiatives such as the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme and the Climate Change Research Programme at the Tyndall Centre (augmented by some comparisons with ESRC's Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, CSERGE, also at UEA), in the UK and abroad, this research will explore ways to enhance QUEST's effectiveness throughout the rest of the programme and draw transferable lessons of relevance to the emerging programmes of the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership. This is an opportunity to advance understanding on the nature of interdisciplinarity in the area of global environmental change research, whilst delivering practical benefits to the QUEST community and providing valuable guidance for other future initiatives. This project will work closely with the parallel study of QUEST's effectiveness in science and policy dialogue. We will pursue a mixed portfolio of methods to ensure that we capture qualitative insights along with quantifiable indicators where possible. These will include: - document analysis of both academic literature on interdisciplinarity and grey literature, e.g. on structures and experiences of relevant UK and international programmes - semi-structured interviews - surveys (online) - focus groups/workshop - learning visits We will structure the empirical research around three Case Studies (QUEST, RELU, Tyndall Centre) and an array of comparative overviews, especially those with a strong international perspective, such as IHDP and the Earth System Science Partnership. We will triangulate across multiple perspectives and include the following constituencies in our research sample: - QUEST Core Team - The wider research community affiliated with QUEST and Project 1 - Individuals at centres, initiatives or programmes related to QUEST - nationally and internationally - Individuals at centres, initiatives or programmes with comparable interdisciplinary aims - nationally or internationally (e.g. NSF cross-Directorate programmes such as Emerging Topics in Biogeochemical Cycles, Framework 6 initiatives, EU Matisse project) - Institutional leadership - Funders In discussion with QUEST we will plan a range of dissemination activities to maximise learning and the spread of project impacts: 1. an international Masterclass/workshop, focusing on the management and design of interdisciplinary programmes. 2. report to Research Councils and QUEST, situating our findings on the state and pathways for progress of UK interdisciplinarity within the wider international Earth system science context. 3. presentations at UK and international conferences . 4. exit meeting with QUEST and briefings for Research Council officials and research leaders (e.g. Directors of large-scale investments such as LWEC). 5. accessible, practical guidance, in the form of online 'briefing notes' which will include a workable methodology for reflexive through-life assessment of interdisciplinary programmes and guidance on multi-user communications, community-building activities. 6. one or more peer-reviewed journal articles.
Description We identified five key factors for success in interdisciplinarity. Findings from this project can inform learning within RCUK and other funders who are supporting interdisciplinary projects and programmes.
Exploitation Route This work has been picked up by various academic groups and by research funders. For example, I have been invited to give a plenary address at the Irish Research Council's annual meeting in November 2014 on the role of funders in promoting interdisciplinary research.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmace

Description The QUEST project enabled us to provide advice to funders and managers of interdisciplinary projects and programmes
Description Influencing international research policy for interdisciplinary research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The QUEST project enabled us to provide advice to funders and managers of interdisciplinary projects and programmes. The impact of this advice has been evidenced by invitations to contribute to events organised by Irish Research Council (2014), Science Europe (2015), Norwegian Research Council (2016), Aarhus University (2017) and by a commission from RCUK Research Directors Group to provide a consultancy report on international good practice in international peer review.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017