Water security and rangeland sustainability: Transdisciplinary research insights from Namibian–German collaborations

Keywords: interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, sustainable development, co-knowledge production, Namibia

Abstract

The Global South is facing severe challenges in ensuring livelihood security due to climate change impacts, environmental degradation and population growth as well as changing lifestyles. These complex problems cannot be solely solved by single scientific disciplines – they require transdisciplinary research (TDR). Stakeholders from civil society, the corporate sector, government and science need to pool their knowledge to find solutions for sustainable transformations. In Namibia, we have been involved in TDR projects on water supply, and sanitation services as well as livestock management in rangeland systems. In this paper, we review two TDR projects that differ in multiple ways and hence allow us to carve out structural differences and critically discuss research outcomes, lessons learned and the challenge of North–South collaborations. Our review builds upon published and unpublished project documents as well as expert interviews with Namibian and German researchers who were involved in the projects. Our results show that TDR can be put into practice in different ways, depending on the research focus and the period available. The TDR phases of problem framing, inter- and transdisciplinary integration were implemented with different tools and foci points. We discuss the role of project length and funding conditions for project success and outcome generation. In addition, we critically consider the role of Namibian and German researchers in these international collaborations. The conclusions we draw touch upon the points of preparatory research funding, the equal acknowledgement of Global South contributions to joint research projects and the explicit handling of TDR components in project work.

Significance:

  • The current social-ecological challenges are complex and require TDR as a mode of knowledge coproduction, particularly in a development context.
  • Inter- and transdisciplinary integration are critical processes for a project to be successful and require the allocation of adequate time and monetary resources.
  • Longer-term projects with a funded preparatory research phase constitute a structural model for TDR as project outcomes can evolve over time.
  • Global South researchers carry a hidden burden in international collaborations that has to be adequately acknowledged upfront in project planning and final products.
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Published
2021-01-29
Section
Research Article