Agriculture and ecosystem services: Managing diverse stakeholders for interdisciplinary research
Understanding the complex dynamics of ecosystems is increasingly important as the human population grows and faces crises in sustainability. Real world sustainability challenges are multifaceted and cannot be tackled through traditional disciplinary models; they require interdisciplinary perspectives and approaches. Agricultural resiliency is an example of a research area that requires an interdisciplinary approach. Furthermore, classically controlled, plot-scale research is not indicative of processes that happen in real world agricultural environments. However, scaling up research presents challenges, which are compounded when research is interdisciplinary across natural and social science disciplines. Here, we evaluate strategies for both building an interdisciplinary research team and managing the diverse stakeholders involved with sustainability issues.
We have created a research group that includes expertise in wildlife biology, insect toxicology, agroecology, and sociology; all of whom have coalesced to evaluate the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity in agro-ecosystems. We have also created a network of famer cooperaters facilitated by a few “keystone” stakeholders. These keystone contacts are people who are well respected and influential in their respective communities. These communities include conservation organizations, county agricultural extension, farmer organizations, and government. Earning the endorsement of “keystone” contacts enables researchers to access communities that may be weary of outsiders. Additional lessons learned about launching a successful interdisciplinary research project include devoting sufficient time and money to communication and team building. Stakeholders have different vested interests in interdisciplinary projects and communication tailored to individual stakeholders can help ensure trust and buy-in. Lessons learned can inform other researchers who are seeking to do interdisciplinary work within agricultural systems or areas requiring extensive stakeholder participation.