Sustainability science uses a transdisciplinary research process in which academic and non-academic partners collaborate to identify a common problem and co-produce knowledge to develop more sustainable solutions. Sustainability scientists have advanced the theory and practice of facilitating collaborative efforts such that the knowledge created is usable. There has been less emphasis, however, on the last step of the transdisciplinary process: enacting solutions. We analyzed a case study of a transdisciplinary research effort in which co-produced policy simulation information shaped the creation of a new policy mechanism. More specifically, by studying the development of a mechanism for conserving vernal pool ecosystems, we found that four factors helped overcome common challenges to acting upon new information: creating a culture of learning, co- producing policy simulations that acted as boundary objects, integrating research into solution development, and employing an adaptive management approach. With an increased focus on these four factors that enable action, we can better develop the same level of nuanced theoretical concepts currently characterizing the earlier phases of transdisciplinary research, and the practical advice for deliberately designing these efforts.
Given the complexity and multiplicity of goals in natural resource governance, it is not surprising that policy debates are often characterized by contention and competition. Yet at times adversaries join together to collaborate to find creative solutions not easily achieved in polarizing forums. We employed qualitative interviews and a quantitative network analysis to investigate a collaborative network that formed to develop a resolution to a challenging natural resource management problem, the conservation of vernal pools. We found that power had become distributed among members, trust had formed across core interests, and social learning had resulted in shared understanding and joint solutions. Furthermore, institutions such as who and when new members joined, norms of inclusion and openness, and the use of small working groups helped create the observed patterns of power, trust, and learning.
Graduate training in sustainability science (SS) fo- cuses on interdisciplinary research, stakeholder-researcher partnerships, and creating solutions from knowledge. But be- coming a sustainability scientist also requires specialized training that addresses the complex boundaries implicit in sus- tainability science approaches to solving social-ecological system challenges. Using boundary spanning as a framework, we use a case study of the Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) at the University of Maine to explicate key elements for graduate education training in SS.We used a mixed-methods approach, including a quantitative survey and autoethnographic reflection, to analyze our experiences asSSI doctoral students. Through this research, we identified four essential SS boundaries that build on core sustainability competencies which need to be addressed in SS graduate pro- grams, including: disciplines within academia, students and their advisors, researchers and stakeholders, and place-based and generalizable research. We identified key elements of training necessary to help students understand and navigate these boundaries using core competencies. We then offer six best practice recommendations to provide a basis for a SS education framework. Our reflections are intended for aca- demic leaders in SS who are training new scientists to solve complex sustainability challenges. Our experiences as a co- hort of doctoral students with diverse academic and profes- sional backgrounds provide a unique opportunity to reflect not only on the challenges of SS but also on the specific needs of students and programs striving to provide solutions.
Effective natural resource policy depends on knowing what is needed to sustain a resource and building the capacity to identify, develop, and implement flexible policies. This retrospective case study applies resilience concepts to a 16-year citizen science program and vernal pool regulatory development process in Maine, USA. We describe how citizen science improved adaptive capacities for innovative and effective policies to regulate vernal pools. We identified two core program elements that allowed people to act within narrow windows of opportunity for policy transformation, including (1) the simultaneous generation of useful, credible scientific knowledge and construction of networks among diverse institutions, and (2) the formation of diverse leadership that promoted individual and collective abilities to identify problems and propose policy solutions. If citizen science program leaders want to promote social-ecological systems resilience and natural resource policies as outcomes, we recommend they create a system for internal project evaluation, publish scientific studies using citizen science data, pursue resources for program sustainability, and plan for leadership diversity and informal networks to foster adaptive governance.