Integrating policy and science for global sustainability

Bringing scientists from across the Americas together, the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) created a professional seminar series to focus on sustainability across North and South America. The goal is to train future leaders in global change science, policy, and management – establishing international partnerships and research connections.

By connecting experts, and mobilizing projects that result in on-the-ground changes, the IAI hopes to increase the impact of research currently done in the Americas. Addressing the complexity of global change can be better achieved through meaningful collaboration between scientists, policy makers, NGOs, and community stakeholders. The group recently held their second seminar here in Calgary and Banff. This second session followed the first Seminar meeting on November 2016.

The seminar featured 27 scientists and professionals from 15 countries. During the Seminar’s face-to-face meetings, participants collaborated in transdisciplinary teams to develop research questions of common interest, identify potential sources of funding, and design research proposals to address these research questions. Between the first and second sessions, participants continued their collaboration virtually on project proposal development. These projects included issues such as water management, social welfare, conservation, sustainable development, and public health.

Tracking change

A lead organizer of the seminar is Dr. Gabriela Alonso Yañez. Dr. Alonso’s research focuses on the learning processes underpinning interdisciplinary, multi-country research collaborations. As global funding agencies promote teamwork and collaboration across different sectors, there is a need to learn how to better work in teams and conduct research on how these interdisciplinary initiatives work.

The idea for the training intervention emerged from Dr. Alonso’s previous work conducted in 2015 where Dr. Alonso and her team surveyed members of 22 interdisciplinary teams addressing global change in the Americas to generate data about the broader factors that lead to enhanced collaboration among scientists. From this previous research arose the idea of more closely studying the interactions and mechanisms of learning and collaboration that occur in real-life research team settings. Here, the interest is in how these newly-formed interdisciplinary teams worked together – from forming their ideas, distributing tasks, to implementing their designs.

During the year-long initiative, Dr. Alonso has been following the groups studying how team members find common ground and learn together. Using social network analysis, Dr. Alonso tracks who was working with whom at different times, and how the topic of conversations change across different teamwork stages.

During the first session on November 2016, the teams initially began their conversations with others in their own disciplines, generating ideas with those who had a common understanding of their work and the field. As the conversations continued, however, they gradually began to incorporate other researchers and alter their designs to fit more transdisciplinary approaches. This enabled the researchers to look at the issues in more complex ways, integrating various disciplinary perspectives and designing hybrid methodological approaches (informed by both social and natural sciences).

Spreading the word

With many projects still in the early stages of implementation, the current project outcomes have largely been academic – conference presentations, journal publications, etc. – designed to share insights with other scholars. However, others had already begun producing reports and policy documents for local governments, or working with communities – providing workshops and information sessions for those affected by, or who could help address, these issues.

Dr. Alonso is continuing to investigate how these projects play out in their respective countries, and how the groups of international scientists function in their transdisciplinary teams. With a focus on making positive change for people and the planet, initiatives like the IAI’s seminar could help get experts collaborating on complex problems, and working with communities to enact solutions. Bringing this knowledge out of academic-only circles is central to the IAI’s and Dr. Alonso’s work.


See more from Dr. Gabriela Alonso Yañez on her profile


Connected Citations

House-Peters, L., Alonso-Yañez, G., Pittman, J., Garcia-Cartagena, M., Farfán, M., Bonellí, S., & Lorenzo-Arana, I. (2017). Strengthening teamwork to confront socio-ecological challenges: Generating new knowledge for effective action in the Americas. Research Report. Available Online.

In the Media

Learn more about the recent Banff/Calgary seminar here

Find updates from the IAI’s seminar here