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Open Access Assessing societal effects: Lessons from evaluation approaches in transdisciplinary research fields

This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Achieving societal effects is crucial for transdisciplinary research. In this article, we present key characteristics of impact evaluation of transdisciplinary research. We compare different approaches in sustainability, public health, and development research to advance joint learning and define common challenges.

To address complex societal problems, transdisciplinary approaches are increasingly being employed in research to achieve both scientific and societal effects. Comparing experiences of different impact evaluation approaches enables mutual learning across research fields. We provide an overview of the key characteristics of different approaches to assess the impact of transdisciplinary research across the fields of public health, development, and sustainability; uncover commonalities and challenges in applying these approaches; and suggest how they can be overcome by drawing on examples from specific approaches and fields. We find commonalities in terms of conceptual framing as well as data collection and analysis from which we derive the following key challenges:

1. evidencing causal claims, 2. including multiple perspectives on effects, and 3. sustaining continuous monitoring and evaluation. We conclude that impact evaluation of transdisciplinary research must capture the interplay and effects of multiple actors, processes, and impact pathways to promote learning and empirical rigour and suggest how funders can support this endeavour.

Keywords: impact evaluation, public health; realist evaluation; research for development (R4D); societal effects; sustainability research; theory-based evaluation; transdisciplinary research

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 20, 2023

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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