Collaborative research as collaborative learning

15 Nov 2016 - 14:30

By Georgina Cundill Kemp

Georgina Cundill Kemp shares her learning experiences on large-scale collaborative research. Collaborative research that involves many partners with diverse backgrounds and interests is challenging.


Photo credit: Lucia Scodanibbio

Collaborative research that takes this challenge a step further by also attempting to have an impact on communities, practice and policy is more challenging.

ASSAR aspires to both of these things on a grand scale - across two continents, seven countries and with more than 10 partners and sub-partners. An effort such as this must be recognised for what it is: an experiment from which to learn.

ASSAR is not alone in its aspirations for action-oriented research within large transdisciplinary networks. Such models of research are becoming increasingly common in global environmental change research. Indeed, ASSAR joins a new cohort of research communities who have risen to the challenges posed by climate change by being prepared to re-think not only how knowledge is produced, but by whom it is produced, where it should be produced, and for what purpose. Recognising this new space that ASSAR is occupying, and indeed discovering together, brings with it the need to find ways to enable teams of researchers and practitioners to work and learn together effectively.

It is one thing, and perfectly acceptable, to ‘muddle through’ complex projects, learning-by-doing and being adaptive in the face of constant change. It is another thing altogether to give forethought to how the diffuse learning that happens every day in ASSAR can be harnessed in order to improve how the project is implemented, and the impact of the project, in real time. This is a learning-based approach to large-scale collaborative research, and is the kind of game-changer that pushes the frontiers of transdisciplinary research practice.