Transdisciplinary environmental research: Building trust across professional cultures

Frances Harris, Fergus Lyon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)
68 Downloads (Pure)


With the challenges of researching complex topics such as those related to environmental sustainability and land use, there is a growing interest in transdisciplinary research promoting collaboration between research and industry, between different disciplines in research, and between different types of research organisations. However there is a need to know more about how collaboration is operating and approaches to building trust in these relations. This paper uses the detailed analysis of 10 case studies of research collaborations related to sustainability and environmental land-use to examine the different professional cultures among research collaborators, the incentives they have to cooperate, and the processes of building trust. The paper shows that trust is vital when crossing professional cultural boundaries as people are opening themselves to vulnerability and risk. The results show how trust is built between university researchers, environmental NGOs, private businesses and commercial advisory companies. Trust is shown to be built by having information on others, prior experience of working together, norms of cooperation, and sanctions exerted on those who might transgress norms of behaviour. Having incentives is a necessary but not adequate basis for having trust. These relationships are built up through existing relationships, building trust through progression of projects and the use of intermediaries or guarantors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-119
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Collaboration,
  • Trust
  • Professions
  • Land Use
  • Sustainability
  • Qualitative
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Boundary


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