Anna Jonsson

Beyond the market stalls and ivory towers: A study on integrated science for sustainable provision of knowledge

This research proposal focuses attention on the emerging perspective of integrated science as a method for how to involve various stakeholders in society and jointly contribute to knowledge development; a perspective that has been called for both within research and in the public debate about the role of science in society. While collaboration between academia and other societal sectors is often emphasized as being important it is also filled with conflicting, and sometimes naïve, views of different roles in the knowledge production system, as well as expectations. The aim of this project is to develop an understanding of preconditions for initiatives towards integrative knowledge production, to handle previously identified challenges and to reach the often-stated promises of such collaborations. By examining the dynamic learning processes of three collaborative platforms in Sweden, addressing challenges with environment, health, and social wellbeing in the context of international experiences of integrated science, we will contribute with empirical and theoretical insights into integrated knowledge development for securing long-term and sustainable provision of knowledge in society.
Final report
Collaboration between academia and practice is often hailed as a solution to complex societal problems and a contributor to greater competitiveness. This research project has focused on the emerging perspective of integrated science as a means for society’s actors to collaborate and jointly contribute to knowledge development.

Our aim has been to develop an understanding of the conditions for integrated knowledge processes, in order to manage the challenges and meet the expectations such collaborations involve. We have studied four Swedish platforms organised in line with integrated science:

• The Delegation for Trust-Based Public Management (TD) in their efforts for a collaboratively developed trust-based steering model for schools and healthcare.
• Ideell Arena (IA), specifically organising for regular collaboration between academia and IA’s member organisations.
• The Environmental Protection Agency (SNV), specifically collaboration on environmental aspects of consumption.
• The Swedish Research Council for Sports Science (CiF), specifically the Bunkeflo project (BP) as an example of successful knowledge collaboration.

Further, we have turned to international examples, and examined the ambiguity of collaboration as a concept. We have also looked inwards in order to understand how Swedish universities organise collaboration between academia and practice.

Our project is one of eight in the Samhällets kunskapsförsörjning research programme. This is an eight-year programme with a budget of 80 MSEK, in which our project has been the smallest in time (3 years, spread over 4 years) and total budget (3.84 MSEK). Some adjustments to the original plan have been necessary along the way, but these have helped widen and extend the generation of knowledge. Certain events have affected the project’s development.

Key research event: Publication of research proposition 2016/17:50 “Kunskap i samverkan” six months after the start date. The metaphor underpinning our application – the researcher as either market trader or isolated in an ivory tower – became a feature of the debate. We saw here an opportunity to contribute to the debate and alert stakeholders to our research project and the aims of the programme.

Adjustment of empirical cases: The opportunities to study TD closely lessened the focus on CiF and IA, in line with our aim to follow the process from planning to final phase in real time. The focus for NSV was narrowed to specific efforts regarding the role of the general public in contributing to sustainable development.

Need for conceptual research overview: We realised early on that there was no overview of the many terms used to describe collaboration. Having an overview of the terms bordering “integrated science” was essential for the project. This resulted in an article, currently being assessed by an international research publication.

Opportunities for international study: In line with our application we have studied international examples in situ: Klintman was a visiting scholar at Oxford University and the London School of Economics & Political Science, 2016-2018, and Grafström at SCANCOR, Stanford University (Jan-June 2018). Our application had stated our further intention to visit INSEAD, but we elected instead to focus on Stanford and Oxford and the opportunity for close study of two cases. The case studies analyse how both universities organise their collaboration with practice, using the examples of two collaborative efforts centred on water supply.

• Stanford: Workshop series on water levels data, run by Water in the West (WiW).
• Oxford: Environmental Competency Group on water levels in the River Kennet, Marlborough.

Klintman’s two-year research stay has further contributed to the project with a greater understanding of knowledge resistance, a recurring theme in our case studies. The realisation that the BP outcome has not been acknowledged, despite media coverage, reinforced our interest in questions of knowledge resistance.

Extended project period: Following the above-mentioned events, our application for more time was granted within the existing budget. We chose to reallocate our time to reflect an equal input of effort, and to reduce the level of activity over a longer period to maintain an even pace with the programme.

To achieve our aim we have conducted qualitative case studies. All the platforms, with the exception of TD, were studied to see how they worked before or at the point of entry. TD was studied longitudinally.

Our empirical work has comprised interviews, documentation studies and observations. We have conducted 67 interviews and 23 observations in total. A significant amount of this work concerns TD. We followed their work for a year and a half, and held interviews with strategically selected persons: the Chair, secretariat representatives, research leaders, researchers, and representatives from other organisations. We observed 21 meetings. As the BP project ended some years ago, the number of interviewees was limited. Interviews were held with key persons and supplemented with document studies. The IA study was intended to create an understanding of how they view their role as knowledge collaboration intermediary. We interviewed office employees, membership representatives and researchers, and read documentation. We also conducted observations on two occasions. At SNV interviews were combined with document analysis. A strict delimitation was necessary for a focused analysis due to the diversity of the activities. In Oxford we conducted documentation studies and interviews with key University staff, and with those who worked with knowledge collaboration in questions of water supply. Documentation studies and interviews at Stanford University and with those who worked with knowledge collaboration within the framework for WiW were conducted in the same way, to enable a comparison between the two universities.

Another important part of our method has been regular participation in conversations on the view of knowledge collaboration. One insight gained from these is that theoretical discussion takes place in relative isolation from practice, in the same way as practical discussion and efforts are often isolated from theory and academia. In an effort to bridge these discussions we took the initiative for an essay anthology to highlight the discussion from the perspective of the researcher, aiming to facilitate a joint conversation on these questions.

1. Understanding of concept of knowledge – product vs process: Most prior studies have focused on the outcome of knowledge collaboration – often understood as the “product”. Our focus on what happens during the collaboration period – the “process” - indicates that what is generally described as a barrier to knowledge collaboration is in fact its prerequisite: differences and boundaries must be maintained if there is to be an object for collaboration. The concept of knowledge must thus be problematised and widened; while in some cases it refers simply to scientifically produced knowledge, in others it refers to other forms.

2. Characteristics and adaption – an inevitable balancing act: In line with the result of understanding and maintaining differences, our results match what is described in organisation studies as “boundary work”. Such studies stress the need to understand the characteristics of actors and their adaption in different types of collaboration activities. This becomes clear when we focus on the process and different actors’ roles and understanding of collaboration. It is also confirmed in the conceptual review, where we have identified a number of tension parameters. By including literature in boundary work we contribute to the literature on integrated science – despite the lack of a theoretical frame of reference.

3. The challenges of understanding and controlling collaboration: One reason collaboration is not straightforward is that the concept itself is ambiguous. It is also value-charged and influenced – in a Swedish context – by the research debate. Our studies show that there are various understandings of collaboration and how such initiatives are best organised. Our conversations with researchers have been almost therapeutic in nature, suggesting that the formal steering does not always correspond to the researcher’s daily practice. The interviews show that researchers are at times reluctant to collaborate with external partners or in multidisciplinary contexts. One explanation is that the joint generation of new knowledge is considered difficult, which is in contrast to the general understanding that a precondition for new knowledge is meetings across boundaries –disciplinary, cultural and professional.

• How does steering of collaboration influence research practice?
• How can collaboration projects be organised to balance different knowledge quality criteria and integrate more critical perspectives?
• What are the implications of researchers studying an ongoing process in which other researchers participate?
• What role does scientifically produced knowledge play at a time when many actors claim knowledge through alternative channels?
• How is research communicated and how does it influence the view of knowledge among the general public?

In line with the intention of the programme our aim has been to describe – and to create understanding of – both our research process and our results. A further aim has been to attempt to understand universities’ efforts to organise collaboration. In order to further contribute to dissemination, we applied for and were granted RJ’s communication project (KOM18-1381:1). We have striven to reach a broad target group, through a breadth of publications. Our project has led to new collaborations and dialogues.
Grant administrator
Stockholm University
Reference number
SEK 3,840,000.00
Long-Term Provision of Knowledge
Business Administration