CE03 - Interactions Humains-Environnement

An inter- and transdisciplinary project to study collaborations in sustainability science – COLLAB2

Inter- and transdisciplinaray collaborations in sustainability sciences

Although the growth of collaborations is a major current trend in the life sciences, little is known about how they influence the working practices of researchers and their partners. <br />COLLAB² aims to provide a broad and in-depth view of these collaborations, based on a study of three structures where they play a major role: «zones ateliers« (ZA), human-environment observatories (OHM) and biosphere reserves (BR).

Characterize collaborations, their modalities and effects

We understand collaborations as complex social processes, which need to be understood over time.<br />The main objectives of the project are to <br />1. characterise inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations in the field of sustainability sciences: content, stages of projects where collaboration takes place, modalities, extension in space and time, intensity, results, modes of valorisation, ...<br />2. analyse the dynamics of the collaborations: how they are established and evolve, what stimulates them or on the contrary hinders them, at different levels.<br />3. study their effects on the practices, roles, identities and trajectories of the researchers and their partners, on the research collectives, and on the territories associated with the structures studied (to what extent do they actually contribute to improving their sustainability and resilience?)<br />A fourth cross-cutting objective is to conduct this research and disseminate its results in close association with sustainability scientists and their partners, so that this collaborative project is itself highly collaborative (hence the acronym COLLAB²).

Our investigation aims to grasp what collaboration means in concrete terms for researchers and their partners: how collaborations transform research questions and methods as well as professional identities (pragmatic approach). We seek to understand collaborations in their cognitive, relational and affective dimensions (multidimensional approach), and at their different levels: at the level of individuals, projects and structures studied. We thus adopt a pragmatic, multidimensional and multi-level approach to collaborations.
Our study of collaborations is based on a mixed survey: a quantitative survey by questionnaire of a large number of researchers and their partners involved in the structures studied; a qualitative survey by interviews with pioneers and promoters of inter- and transdisciplinary research in sustainability sciences, and by ethnographic observation of a sample of collaborative projects in each of the three structures.
One of the project's original features is that the research team is made up of researchers who are strongly involved in the structures studied (insiders) and researchers who are not (outsiders), and that it involved members of each of the structures studied in this team from the very beginning of the project. At this stage of the project, this association is proving to be very fruitful, by facilitating the knowledge of the structures and, above all, the discussion of the research method and its intermediate results, as well as the dissemination of the latter to the communities concerned.

The quantitative questionnaire study enabled us to paint a picture of the researchers and their partners involved in collaborations in the three structures studied, and to investigate their motivations to collaborate, their perceptions of the collaborations, the course and dynamics of the latter, as well as their results and effects. Statistical processing of the data revealed similarities and differences between the three organisations in terms of collaboration, and the existence of significant links between the respondents' attributes (such as their status, discipline, or age) and their motivations to collaborate, the difficulties they may encounter, the positive and negative emotions they feel towards them, etc.
The material collected in the qualitative survey, and in particular the numerous interviews conducted, enabled us to propose an analysis of the dynamics of interdisciplinary research on the environment in France, since its emergence in the 1960s, by mobilising the theory of scientific intellectual movements.
Most of the material collected is still being analysed.

In the coming period, we plan to carry out the following work:
- Continuation and finalisation of the collection of material :
o Continued monitoring of a sample of collaborative projects
o Study of the international dimension of inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations in the studied schemes
o Carrying out additional interviews
- Continuation of the bibliographic workshop
- Valorisation
o Finalisation of the methodological proposal to study inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations in sustainability sciences
o ZA: Writing of two papers, one on the choice and implementation of research methods in collaborative projects, the other on the concrete modalities of adapting governance to inter- and trans-disciplinarity objectives.
o RB: writing of two articles, one on the involvement of scientists in the genesis of the eco-actor programme in French biosphere reserves and the other on the place of scientific knowledge and researchers in Lynx reintroduction projects
o OHM: Finalization of the relational database; writing of an article on the dynamics of collaborations in OHMs identified from the relational database

Communications :
Session COLLAB², International Symposium of LabEx DRIIHM, 6th-8th September 2021, Toulouse (Arpin, Sagna, Beurier)
Beurier. 2021. Les Observatoires Hommes-Milieux : un exemple de formation des collectifs scientifiques interdisciplinaires en environnement ? (Beurier et March) (juillet 2021, 9e congrès de l’Association Française de Sociologie)
Beurier. 2020. Les collaborations inter- et transdisciplinaires dans les « sciences de la durabilité » (Séminaire scientifique annuel de l'OHM Vallée du Rhône, Webinaire, France)

Submitted articles
Hervé, Jacob, Sagna, Cibien. Inventorier les activités scientifiques dans les réserves de biosphère françaises : une chasse au trésor ? (soumis à Natures Sciences Sociétés)
Arpin, Jacob, Beurier, Hervé, Likhacheva. La recherche interdisciplinaire et finalisée en environnement en France : un mouvement scientifique et intellectuel entre dissidence et normalisation (soumis à Revue française de sociologie)

Popularization article
Arpin. 2021. La recherche scientifique à l’épreuve des « wicked problems » de l’Anthropocène. accepté

Book review
Beurier. Séverine Louvel, The policies and politics of interdisciplinary research. Nanomedecine in France and in the United States. (recension d’ouvrage, soumis à la revue d’anthropologie des connaissances)

Popularization conference
Rendez-vous du MAB #4 « Identifier les activités scientifiques dans les réserve de biosphère françaises : premiers retours de Collab2 »

Albeit by no means new, collaboration in science has recently gained unprecedented momentum and visibility. Commonly presented as “a good thing”, it has become an imperative. This holds especially true for sustainability science, a recent and expanding problem-driven science that focuses on the dynamic interactions between nature and society and aims to create and apply knowledge in support of decision making for sustainable development. Researchers in this field are strongly encouraged to work with colleagues from other disciplines and actors from outside academia. Yet, little is currently known about how collaborations transform the work practices and identities of researchers and contribute to the shift towards more sustainability.

COLLAB² will offer both a broad and in-depth view of inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations in sustainability science. It will pursue the four following goals: 1) elaborate a typology of these collaborations, based on a thorough investigation of their characteristics; 2) describe and analyse their dynamics: how they unfold over time, what stimulates or on the contrary hinders them, at various levels; 3) explore their effects on the practices, roles, identities and trajectories of researchers and their collaborators, and their capacity to contribute to the shift towards more sustainability. A fourth cross-cutting goal is to conduct this research and disseminate its results in close association with sustainability scientists and their partners, so that this project about collaboration will itself be highly collaborative (hence the acronym COLLAB²).

COLLAB² will explore the full scope of collaborations in sustainability science in three institutional settings aiming to foster them: CNRS’s Zones Ateliers and Observatoires Hommes-Milieux, and biosphere reserves. It will produce a balanced and multi-level analysis of collaborations, and address their different dimensions (material, cognitive, relational and affective) in the long run.

A common research framework will be adopted to allow a cross analysis of the data. It will rely on a mixed method, combining bibliometric tools, a national questionnaire that will be disseminated simultaneously in the three institutions, and an ethnographic survey of a sample of diversified collaborative projects. COLLAB² will devote paramount attention to the perspectives of participants in collaborations, which is crucial given the importance of their human factors but has seldom been addressed so far.

COLLAB² will bring together six social and life scientists with strong personal experience of collaborations in sustainability science and wanting to explore them together and with other partners. A dyad of collaborators from each institution investigated will be closely associated to the work of the consortium throughout the project. This will enable us to experiment with a process of participative and iterative reflection through the sharing of experiences and ideas beyond the consortium, leading to new knowledge and mutual learning.

COLLAB² will thus make an invaluable contribution to the emerging scientific field of collaboration studies. Its results will be disseminated to a large and diversified audience, using well-adapted language and through a wide array of communication channels (articles in academic and technical journals; conferences and seminars; presentations to the institutions investigated; short videos; interactive website). It will help sustainability scientists and their collaborators to identify the factors and effects of collaborations, overcome their inherent difficulties and form a community of practice. It will provide science policymakers and relevant ministries with concrete recommendations to improve collaborations in sustainability science and craft sound research policies in the Anthropocene.

Project coordination

Arpin Isabelle (LESSEM)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CEBC Centre d'études biologiques de Chizé
ESS Environnement, Santé, Sociétés
CREDA Centre de recherche et de documentation des Amériques - David Dumoulin
LPED Laboratoire Population-Environnement-Développement

Help of the ANR 466,665 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2019 - 48 Months

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