Conceptualizing the transfer of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research

Adler, Carolina; Hirsch Hadorn, Gertrude; Breu, Thomas; Wiesmann, Urs; Pohl, Christian (2018). Conceptualizing the transfer of knowledge across cases in transdisciplinary research. Sustainability science, 13(1), pp. 179-190. Springer 10.1007/s11625-017-0444-2

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Transdisciplinary (TD) research is increasingly suggested as a means of tackling wicked problems by providing knowledge on solutions that serve as pathways towards sustainable development. In contrast to research striving for generalizable findings, TD research produces insights for a particular case and context. TD researchers, who build on other TD projects’ results, need to know under what conditions knowledge gained from their case can be transferred to and applied in another case and context. Knowledge transfer between researchers and stakeholders is extensively discussed in the literature.
However, a more profound understanding and management of the challenges related to knowledge transfer across cases, as it applies to TD research, are missing. We specify
the challenges of knowledge transfer in TD research by distinguishing TD research for policy from conventional evidence-based policy, which relies on generalizing findings,
such as randomized controlled trials. We also compare the functions that cases fulfil in other types of research that include basic, applied and ideographic research. We propose to conceptualize transferability of knowledge across cases as arguments by analogy. Methodologically, this would imply explicit consideration on whether the cases in question are sufficiently similar in relevant aspects while not dissimilar in other additional relevant aspects. On the one hand, this approach calls for explicit material considerations that are needed to learn about which aspects of cases are relevant. On the other hand, formal considerations on how to weigh perceived relevant similarities and dissimilarities of the cases at hand for transferability of knowledge, are needed. Empirical research on how projects in TD research deal with this problem is called for.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Geographies of Sustainability > Unit Critical Sustainability Studies (CSS)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Geographies of Sustainability
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

Graduate School:

International Graduate School North-South (IGS North-South)

UniBE Contributor:

Breu, Thomas Michael, Wiesmann, Urs Martin






[806] Education for Sustainable Development




Stephan Schmidt

Date Deposited:

27 Jun 2017 11:28

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:06

Publisher DOI:


Additional Information:

Online First




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