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Pure theory or useful tool? Experiences with transdisciplinarity in the Piedmont Alps

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The article reflects the theoretical concept of transdisciplinarity by presenting the successive work stages of a research project conducted in the Piedmont Alps from 1998 to 2004. It demonstrates why and how transdisciplinary methodology was applied, and the experiences gained from its use. The transdisciplinary strategy was adopted since it enables researchers to cross disciplinary borders and to deal with extra-scientific “real world problems”. The Piedmont Project, therefore, focussed on the expected solutions to the undesired negative ecological and social effects of land abandonment in the south-western Alps. The problem-solving strategy has been divided into five steps: problem definition, problem comprehension, problem analysis, treatment of sub areas and their integration in order to achieve overlapping results. The end of the research was marked by the development and implementation of applicable solutions. Experiences with transdisciplinarity were both negative and positive in nature. On the one hand, the necessity of including the local population was a particularly significant and exhausting challenge, requiring a great deal of openness, patience and communication skills. On the other hand, the ‘real world’ research did bring forth a great amount of practical and theoretical knowledge for the researchers as well as for the stakeholders.
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Pure theory or useful tool?
Experiences with transdisciplinarity in the Piedmont Alps
Franz Ho
¨chtl
a,
*, Susanne Lehringer
b
, Werner Konold
a
a
Albert-Ludwigs-University, Department of Forest and Environmental Sciences, Institute for Landscape Management,
Tennenbacher Str. 4, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany
b
Via Castello 7, I-21036 Gemonio, VA, Italy
1. Introduction
Transdisciplinarity, a term originally chosen in the context of
the philosophy and organisation of science, has become a
dazzling term of more recent scientific theory and research.
The number of conferences and publications on this
approach is remarkable (e.g. Nicolescu, 2002; Hirsch Hadorn,
2002; Tress et al., 2003). Anglo-American scientific debates of
the 1960s and 1970s influenced the formation of the term
‘transdisciplinarity’ (Hentig, 1971; Jantsch, 1972). During the
1980s the German philosopher Ju
¨rgen Mittelstraß introduced
it to the Central European scientific community. According to
him, transdisciplinarity is a type of research which crosses
disciplinary borders and which is based on real world
problems. Transdisciplinary approaches identify and solve
such problems without relying on any specific discipline.
They enhance the ability to think and work in supra-
disciplinary categories (Mittelstraß, 1992, 1995). Transdisci-
plinary research is problem-oriented and fills the gaps
existing between disciplines (Kinzig, 2001). A peculiarity of
this type of research is that the problem to be solved not only
transgresses the boundaries of scientific disciplines, but also
science as a whole. Transdisciplinary thinking helps us
recognise problems and their development before they
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329
article info
Published on line 23 February 2006
Keywords:
Scientific methodology
Transdisciplinarity
Applied research
Alpine research
Public participation
abstract
The article reflects the theoretical concept of transdisciplinarity by presenting the succes-
sive work stages of a research project conducted in the Piedmont Alps from 1998 to 2004. It
demonstrates why and how transdisciplinary methodology was applied, and the experi-
ences gained from its use. The transdisciplinary strategy was adopted since it enables
researchers to cross disciplinary borders and to deal with extra-scientific ‘‘real world
problems’’. The Piedmont Project, therefore, focussed on the expected solutions to the
undesired negative ecological and social effects of land abandonment in the south-western
Alps. The problem-solving strategy has been divided into five steps: problem definition,
problem comprehension, problem analysis, treatment of sub areas and their integration in
order to achieve overlapping results. The end of the research was marked by the develop-
ment and implementation of applicable solutions. Experiences with transdisciplinarity
were both negative and positive in nature. On the one hand, the necessity of including
the local population was a particularly significant and exhausting challenge, requiring a
great deal of openness, patience and communication skills. On the other hand, the ‘real
world’ research did bring forth a great amount of practical and theoretical knowledge for the
researchers as well as for the stakeholders.
#2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 761 203 3639; fax: +49 761 203 3638.
E-mail address: franz.hoechtl@landespflege.uni-freiburg.de (F. Ho
¨chtl).
available at www.sciencedirect.com
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/envsci
1462-9011/$ – see front matter #2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2006.01.003
appear and become critical (Mittelstraß, 1995). The research
objects of transdisciplinary approaches can be characterised
as follows:
they are of an extra-scientific origin and are a product of
everyday life,
they relate to public goods (e.g. water, air, landscape, health,
knowledge) and how they are managed,
they are of common concern,
their definition does not make use of scientific terminology,
as is normally the case in applied science,
they are shaped by the application of disciplinary knowledge
from different scientific or extra-scientific fields, and
interdisciplinary collaboration is necessary in order to
achieve the research objectives (Ko
¨tter and Balsiger, 1999;
Fry, 2001).
The transdisciplinary research principle implies renoun-
cing sovereignty over disciplinary knowledge, the generation
of new insights by collaboration as well as the capacity
to consider the know-how of professionals and lay-people.
Collectively, transdisciplinary contributors enable the cross-
fertilisation of ideas and knowledge from different actors,
leading to an enlarged vision of a subject, as well as new
explanatory theories. Transdisciplinarity is a way of achieving
innovative goals, enriched understanding and a synergy of
new methods (Lawrence, 2004).
This article, primarily addressed to scientists and plan-
ners as well as to policy makers involved in the development
of sustainable land use strategies for marginal rural land-
scapes, will illustrate the concept of transdisciplinarity by
presenting the successive working steps of a research project
conducted in the Piedmont Alps from 1998 to 2004. The
intention is not to present the extensive results of this
project, which are exposed in more detail in other publica-
tions (Lehringer et al., 2003; Ho
¨chtl et al., 2005a,b). It will
rather demonstrate why and how transdisciplinary metho-
dology was applied and what experiences were gained from
its use.
2. The research project
In the 20th century the Piedmont Alps witnessed profound
socio-economic changes that have transformed their land-
scapes. Due to increasing industrial development, popula-
tion density and traditional agro-silvi-pastoral land use
practices declined considerably in this area. As a con-
sequence today, a major part of these entirely or partly
abandoned alpine landscapes is characterised by a natural
process transforming former farmland into forests. The
historical, ecological and social processes associated with
land-use abandonment were the main topics of the project
titled ‘From rural landscape to wildernessChanges in alpine
landscapes resulting from a decline in land-use in the Val Grande
National Park and Strona Valley
1
carried out from 1998 to
2004. The objective was to explore perspectives for the
future of the affected landscapes and their users. This
included the assessment of the two contrasting concepts:
maintaining traditional landscapes or tolerating their
transformation into ‘‘wild’’ areas covered by dense shrub-
and woodlands.
The research focused on three study areas, the municipal
territory of Premosello Chiovenda (SA
2
1) and the Portaiola
Valley (SA 2) in the Val Grande National Park, as well as the
Upper Strona Valley (SA 3) with its villages Piana di Forno and
Campello Monti (Fig. 1). All these areas are characterised by
the coexistence of various agro-silvi-pastoral uses and
abandoned areas, but to different extents. While cultivated
alpine pastures dominate the Strona Valley, vast areas
undergoing processes of natural reforestation cover the
Val Grande National Park, which was established in 1992 as
‘Italy’s Largest Wilderness Area’ (Olmi, 2002). Up to the start
of the research project, regional nature conservation admin-
istrators and politicians had no clear ideas how to ensure a
sustainable future landscape development. Already existing
management plans, as in the case of the Val Grande National
Park, were not followed and their requirements were in no
way implemented. The guiding principles for nature con-
servation were often very contradictory. On the one hand the
experts argued that biodiversity could be best protected
without active landscape care by allowing unhindered
landscape development. The Val Grande National Park’s
territory was described as remote and inaccessible and
therefore as ‘‘self-protecting’’ (Ho
¨chtl et al., 2005a). On the
other hand the biodiversity decline on former cultivated
areasaswellasthelossofrurallandscapeandtraditional
agricultural land use practices were complained. However,
definite measures to counteract these developments did not
exist.
3. Characteristics of the transdisciplinary
approach
According to Jaeger and Scheringer (1998) the perception of
one or more extra-scientific problems marks the beginning
of a transdisciplinary project. Fig. 2 shows an idealistic,
transdisciplinary problem solving strategy. It is divided into
five steps: problem definition, problem comprehension,
problem analysis, treatment of sub areas and their integra-
tion in order to achieve overlapping results. This research
process aims at the development and implementation of
applicable solutions. The following section will describe
how this idealistic approach took form in the ‘Piedmont
Project’.
3.1. Problem perception outside the scientific community
The first impetus for this research project was a personal,
subjective experience. For many city dwellers and also for the
authors, the remoteness of the Strona Valley holds a subtle
attraction. The lack of nearly all visible traces of modern life,
the uncontrolled nature of the narrow, dark forested valley
with innumerable watercourses flowing down the steep
slopes like silver threads, create a fascinating atmosphere.
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329 323
1
Supported by the Bristol Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland.
2
SA: Study area.
We visited the area frequently in view of these character-
istics, witnessing progressive abandonment, at the same time
becoming aware of the profound changes to rural landscapes.
This process fostered our scientific curiosity in related
ecological and social problems. Over time, contacts with
the locals became closer and it was soon clear that their
perception of the landscape was completely different. They
warned us frequently about picnicking with the children on
the meadows surrounding the village, because of the
abundance of vipers. They even regarded it as dangerous to
wear sandals. Only ‘armed’ with hiking boots and a stick were
we allowed to move around the village.A woman explained to
us with regret that nowadays the surroundings were very
‘messy’ because of land abandonment, pointing out all the
parts of the landscape surrounding the village. She emp-
hasized how ‘clean’ the paths used to be in former times. So
in the past mountaineers had been able to reach the alpine
huts barefoot while nowadays vipers would even enter
houses.
Indeed, vipers are sighted occasionally in the village and
the local inhabitants immediately kill them. The news of such
an event always spreads like wildfire throughout the small
community and all the inhabitants congregate, curiously
observing the ‘conquered’ animal. In abandoned places, where
the stone walls of houses and terraces are crumbling, the
habitat conditions for vipers are ideal. This problem percep-
tion was the impetus for the joint research project.
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329324
Fig. 2 – The problem solving strategy in transdisciplinary
projects (according to Jaeger and Scheringer, 1998).
Fig. 1 – Geographic location of the study areas within the Lake Maggiore region of Northern Italy (SA: study area).
3.2. Definition of the core problem
After in-depth reflection and intensive literature research, the
core problem was defined as follows:
In the PiedmontAlps, emigration andland abandonment are
leading to considerable landscape changes. The percentage
of waste land is increasing at the cost of land used by
agricultureand forestry. This leads to a change of biotopesas
well as to a decrease in land usability, and consequently,
land abandonment and emigration affect not only the
landscape, plants and animals, but also humans.
The urgency of the problem and the need to propose
appropriate solutions are issues that have been raised by
several politicians of the Strona and Ossola Valley and are
known from numerous scientific and popular publications
(Messerli, 1985, 1989; Ba
¨tzing, 1991; Broggi, 1996).
3.3. Problem comprehension: identification of core
questions
To comprehend the problem we immersed ourselves mentally
and physically into the local reality and spent many months in
the research areas to prepare the project. This was necessary
to identify core research questions, in order to detect
significant gaps in the knowledge about the existing problem.
This helped us gain a detailed comprehension of the
importance and intricacy of the problem.
Drawing deductions from this problem perception, the core
problem was divided into the following key questions:
1) What influence does the decline in land use have on the
structural and vegetation diversity of the alpine landscape?
2) To what extent has the traditional land use system left an
imprint on the landscape that is turning into ‘wilderness’?
3) How do locals and visitors perceive the landscape changes?
4) What are the consequences of land abandonment for the
local population and for visitors?
5) What strategies for a sustainable future development canbe
derived from the results and how can they be implemented?
These questions concern, at the same time, physical ele-
ments and socio-cultural factors that constitute the landscape
and that therefore refer to different scientific disciplines:
vegetation ecology (1), historical geography (2) and the social
sciences (3, 4). Question 5 has an interdisciplinary character.
The formulation of the questions was not restricted by any
limitations of the individual disciplines. The complexity of the
given problem, which derives from the ‘‘real world’’, contrasts
with the disciplinary organization of science (Tress et al.,
2001). It can be analysed only by a common effort of varying
methodologies. The results have to be interpreted by creating
a bridge between several disciplines in an inherently trans-
disciplinary approach. As mentioned in the introduction, the
objectives of transdisciplinary projects are achieved through
interdisciplinary collaboration. In the Piedmont Project, the
problem was not solved through interdisciplinary exchange
between several scientific working groups. The project, how-
ever, met the interdisciplinary claim insofar as each of the two
main researchers did not focus on individual issues but ap-
plied a wide range of different methods and integrated the
partial results in order to obtain overlapping, final results.
3.4. Problem analysis: definition of sub areas and methods
Due to the complex interactions between landscape and
population that characterize cultural landscapes and that
became evident in the core questions, we distinguished three
methodological focus points or ‘‘sub areas’’: historical land-
scape analysis, ecological landscape analysis, socio-empirical
survey (Fig. 3). The division into these three sub areas was
necessary to apply ‘disciplinary’ methods according to the
requirements of common scientific quality standards. It is
crucial that the methods can be chosen, combined and
developed freely and that they can derive from disciplines
that are not necessarily interrelated. They were transferred to
new fields of application, which go beyond the traditional use:
i.e. they were used in a transdisciplinary manner (cp. Jaeger
and Scheringer, 1998).
Historic landscape analysis was used to reconstruct the
traditional rural landscape of the study area (Konold, 1996).
The primary sources used for this purpose came from the local
and regional archives and included letters, land use statistics,
old land registers and maps, as well as photographs (Rackham,
1986). In addition to these archival materials, persistent
traditional landscape elements, such as planar elements
(e.g. pastures, vineyards), linear elements (e.g. mule paths,
mountain paths) and point elements (e.g. charcoal burning
platforms, clearance mounds), were mapped during inspec-
tion walks through the landscape. Methods of historical
research were complemented by interviews with contempor-
ary witnesses of the land use changes in the area (Foggerty,
2001) and by evaluations of secondary sources.
The ecological inventory of the current vegetation was
carried out by means of a synoptic comparison of vegetation
tables based on vegetation releve
´susing the Braun-Blanquet
method (Braun-Blanquet, 1964) and lists of plant species.
Vegetation mapping and the analysis of vegetation-transects
were also applied (Glavac, 1996). On the basis of the ecological
investigation, the effects of land abandonment on the floristic
diversity of the research areas could be identified. In order to
document the changes in vegetation cover over time, aerial
photographsfrom the years 1954, 1970and 1991 were compared
and interpreted. The analysisof the carbon–nitrogenratio in soil
samples from an abandoned alpine pasture provided a further
contribution to ecologically relevant information.
Sociological studies were aimed at assessing the prevalent
perception among people in the region with regard to the
present situation and their future expectations (Berg, 1989;
Fowler, 2002). Comprehensive questionnaires treating the
topics ‘life in the village’, ‘traditional agriculture and its
products’ and ‘landscape and nature’ were drawn up by means
of participating observation throughout the three years of the
field research. Although most of the questions were conceived
as closed ones, the questionnaires also contained some open
and hybrid questions. The opinion surveys by questionnaires
were carried out in the year 2000 and directed to a random
sample of 225 residents (return rate 67%) taken from the
electoral register of Premosello and Colloro and addressed to all
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329 325
55 seasonal households present in August 2000(return rate 89%)
in the villages Campello Monti and Piana di Forno in the Strona
Valley. Anotherquestionnaire was aimed at tourists visiting the
National Park and the Strona Valley in summer 2001. The
questionnaires were available in three languages (Italian,
German, English) in the information points of the National
Park, in the restaurants and overnight accomodations in the
upper Strona Valley and distributed also personally along the
main trekking paths (self selective sample according to
Friedrichs, 1990). In addition, semi-structured interviews were
conducted with eight politicians and nature conservationists as
well as with the herdsmenand the local population in the upper
Strona Valley. More information about the construction of the
questionnaires, the sample and the data analysis are available
in Ho
¨chtl et al. (2005a).
3.5. Treatment of the sub areas in reciprocal reference
After the definition of the sub areas, they were examined with
appropriatemethods. In order toreach coherent solutionsto the
overall problem, it is suggested that one should treat the sub
areas and interpret the results in reciprocal reference (Jaeger
and Scheringer, 1998). The example of Alpe Serena, the last of
the Val Grande National Park’s high alpine pastures that was
abandoned in 1969, illustrates how this approach was actually
realized and it will particularly clarify the meaning of the term
reciprocal reference.
Since its abandonment, Alpe Serena has developed for more
than 30 years without any human impact. Today, the areas
around the huts are still dominated by nitrophytes.
3
The
carbon–nitrogen-ratio of the soil at a distance of 100 m from the
huts is 12. The vegetation analysis and the soil survey
demonstrate that the nitrogen content and the nitrogen
availability are still very high. The periodic depositions of dung
and the watering of the meadows over centuries can explain
this fact. This information about former land use practices was
gathered through interviews with former land users as part of
the historical research, which was conducted parallel with the
vegetationanalysis. Therefore, the simultaneous assessmentof
two sub areas—the ecological and historical landscape analy-
sis—produced the result that historical land use practices have,
up to the present, made an impact on vegetation development
in fallowed alpine areas, and will continue to do so.
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329326
Fig. 3 – Scheme of the research focus and applied methods.
3
Nitrogen demanding plants.
3.6. Integration of the sub areas in order to receive
overlapping results
The synopsis of the sub area results finally provided the
answers to the questions raised by the central research. One of
these aimed at defining perspectives for a future sustainable
development of the mountain communities. To arrive at these
perspectives, many partial results were merged. The following
example taken from the Val Grande National Park explains
how single results from different sub areas were integrated in
order to achieve the formulation of perspectives, which is the
project’s most important overall objective.
The ecological investigations revealed a clear decrease in
floristic and structural diversity in the course of natural
succession, turning open land into forest. The proportion of
specialized, light-demanding species found in open areas
decreasedin favour of shade tolerant generalists. Yet, according
to the results of the expert interviews, the conservation of
biodiversitywas the first guiding principle of the national park,
taking priority over other objectives. This is why strategies for
preventing any further decline in vegetation and landscape
diversity had to be developed. Important pre-conditions for the
realization of this objective are the willingness of the local
population to use the landscape and to counteract natural
reforestation, as well as the administrator’s ability to provide
financial support. So sociological surveys were adoptedin order
to analyse whether these pre-requisites are met or not.
The social studies in the Val Grande National Park clearly
showed that nearly 80% of the locals preferred a well-managed
landscape in spite of the widespread succession on formerly
cultivatedareas. The majorityof the various target groupsregret
the loss of cultural values connected with land abandonment. A
large majority demands that the mountain areas should be
inhabited and agriculture should be maintained. Particularly
around the villages, locals judge the effects of abandonment
negatively. The willingness of the younger population to stop
succession is also high. Seventy-five percent of this group could
well imagine starting an agricultural activity in the future, for
examplethe cultivation of pasturesor vineyards. Politicians and
administrative officials emphasized their political will to
support the mountain areas and to maintain settlements and
agricultural activities in the mountains. Various funds and
economic incentives exist to promote alpine agriculture.
Based on this, the revitalisation of at least some abandoned
areas and the development of still existing cultivations
seemed to be a realistic scenario; on the one hand, it conserves
biodiversity, on the other hand it strengthens local socio-
economic development.
4
This conclusion could be drawn from
the integrated results of two sub areas: ecological landscape
analysis and sociological studies.
3.7. Public participation or participation of non-scientists
Great emphasis was placed on creating close and permanent
contacts with the local people throughout the entire research
period. During the first two research years, in which the focus
was on historical and ecological investigations, the local
population was involved as often as possible. From spring to
autumn we took residence in the villages and tried to get in
touch with the locals whenever possible, for example when
they worked on the alpine pastures or when they met at the
local inns. During these encounters we could communicate
the aims of our research in a simple way, and increase the
acceptance of our research among the population. The
information gathered from the inhabitants broadened the
database and deepened our knowledge of the local circum-
stances. Furthermore, we wanted to give the population the
opportunity to participate actively in the research, so every
year the results were presented and discussed with them and
with local politicians during various events. Everybody was
invited to express their personal opinion. The results of these
meetings were immediately integrated into the research
process.
3.8. Implementation of the suggested solutions
Transdisciplinary research is defined as a problem-oriented,
autonomous approach and, depending on the applied meth-
odology, it can be either practice- or theory-oriented (Jaeger
and Scheringer, 1998). The implementation of the results is not
essential for transdisciplinary projects, but in many cases this
is the objective (Cortner, 2000; Leal Filho, 2005). According to
the experts interviewed, one strategy to counteract the
ongoing abandonment of land use could be to support existing
agro-silvi-pastoral land use practices as much as the estab-
lishment of new agricultural businesses, together with the
development of ecotourism. Encouraged by the results of the
research project, the national park administration initiated
the revitalisation of an already abandoned alpine pasture in
the year 2003, in cooperation with the Malesco community.
They chose the Alpe Straolgio in the upper Portaiola Valley. As
the authors were actively involved as researchers, this
represented an ideal opportunity to put into practice the
results of the previous research project (Ho
¨chtl and Lehringer,
2004).
A political process has recently started in the Strona Valley,
aimed at integrating the upper part in the adjacent Sesia
Valley Regional Park, which may be a first step to the
establishment of a vast UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as
suggested in the research project’s conclusions (Lehringer
et al., 2003). As a result of the good contacts with the local and
regional authorities the authors are invited to participate in
the application of these plans.
As already mentioned in the introduction to this article, at
the beginning of the project administrators and politicians had
quite rudimentary visions regarding sustainable develop-
ment. Existing ideas and plans were pursued only hesitantly
and barely implemented. As a result of the researcher’s
personal contacts with the political authorities and the local
population as well as the repeated evening presentations and
discussions an exchange process arose, which led to in-depth
reflection on the problem and the definition of basic measures
to counteract the undesirable effects of land abandonment.
Therefore, the results of the Piedmont Project exceed the
generation of pure scientific data. The revitalisation of the
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329 327
4
The Italian skeleton law on protected areas (Legge quadro sulle
aree protette, 6. dicembre 1991, no. 394) gives national parks a
clear order to promote sustainable socio-economic development
and tourism in the marginal zones.
Alpe Straolgio and the foundation of a protected area in the
Upper Strona Valley are finally a concrete indicator for the
project’s success.
3.9. Disadvantages and advantages of the methodology
As a result of the transdisciplinary approach, many new,
interestingand useful insights couldbe gained and it is arguable
whether conventional research of only one discipline could
have produced the same results. On the other hand, however,
this methodology also had the following disadvantages.
The time required to build up the contacts with the locals
slowed down the research process, especially at the beginning
of the project. Fortunately, our sponsor, the Bristol Foundation
of Zurich, exercised great patience in this respect. Projects
which are supposed to deliver usable results within a short
period of time—as is often the case—usually do not have
enough time available to establish intensive contacts. How-
ever, if the human factor plays a decisive role in the problems
to be investigated, a certain amount of time is required in
order to avoid precipitant action and superficiality.
The need to get to know the local population, to win and
maintain their trust, was a huge challenge, demanding a high
degree of openness, patience and communication skills,
especially because we were foreigners and therefore outsiders.
At the start of the project, many mountaineers were often
rather reserved, mistrustful and indifferent. It sometimes took
many months to overcome their resistance. This exhausting
phase could have been omitted if the research had been
strictly theoretical. However, a special quality of transdisci-
plinary projects is that they do allow for a fair amount of time
dedicated to communication (about 30% of the working hours
in the Piedmont Project were used for internal and external
communication, e.g. for informal discussions, workshops,
presentations, information events, e-mails and public rela-
tions).
But it was the transdisciplinary approach that made it
possible to deal with a real-world problem, crossing the
boundaries between disciplines. The application of the wide
methodological range, the reflection on the problem from
different perspectives, the interconnection of the sub areas, as
well as the mutual information exchange with local politi-
cians, nature conservationists, land users and many other
people, therefore enhanced the validity and transferability of
the results. The inclusion of indigenous knowledge, which is
seldom recorded systematically in written form, was the key
to an improved understanding of many sub issues. The
systematic body of knowledge acquired from the locals
through the accumulation of experiences, informal experi-
ments, and intimate understanding of the environment
sustained the development of perspectives for the future of
the studied communities (cp. Michael Warren and Rajase-
karan, 1993).
Furthermore, the interest in and the appreciation of the
locals’ knowledge, enhanced their ecological self-awareness.
For the first time their ‘‘everday acitivities’’, i.e. the traditional
agro-silvi-pastoral land use practices, were regarded as
ecologically useful and acknowledged by ‘‘experts’’.
The wide range of different and for us, as natural scientists,
completely new methods proved a challenge. It was particu-
larly laborious and time consuming to comprehend and
master the sociological methods, but at the same time, the
application of the transdisciplinary methodology enhanced
our ability to broaden our views. Consequently, our metho-
dological competence improved greatly.
Although in many places there is an increased demand for
transdisciplinary research, the publication of the results
caused certain problems because some reviewers and publish-
ers still think in tight categories, in terms of specific disciplines
(cp. Monty Reichert et al., 2002). As described above, the results
in our project were generated from a multiplicity of separate
results. During the review process of one of our papers a
referee even insisted on subdividing this article dealing with
the main results into several parts, so that each publication
would only cover one sub area of the overall problem at a time.
This procedure, however, would have distorted the integrative
character of the results. So it would be desirable for reviewers
and editors to make more arrangements for the communica-
tion of results produced by transdisciplinary projects.
3.10. Conclusions
A transdisciplinary approach does not have only advantages
and it is in no way a panacea. The concept is particularly suited
to solving problems related to the management of collective,
i.e. public goods, on which the holder cannot exclude a third
person’s consumption and in which many and different
individuals or groups are participating, as for example the
landscape. Bearing this in mind it is obvious that transdisci-
plinary research is not any ‘better’ or more fashionable than
research within a single discipline (Ko
¨tter and Balsiger, 1999).
Many problems within basic research can be analysed better
by applying the traditional methods of one discipline (Loibl,
2002). The key issues should always determine the path of
research to be followed in order to reach a satisfactory solution
(Ko
¨tter and Balsiger, 1999). Depending on the focus of the
research, it would be desirable for different methodological
approaches to be adopted and accepted.
As landscape research deals with a very dynamic object
that is in a continuous interaction between society and
environment and which is, therefore, a future-oriented branch
of science, it is necessary to face the challenge of going beyond
the boundaries of the different disciplines. This must be done
in order to discover the common communication level
between the scientific community on the one hand and
non-scientific stakeholders on the other. This strategy proved
to be successful in the Piedmont Project. The experience of this
project underlines the need for sustainable strategies directed
to local and regional needs. To develop sustainable policies,
the concern of the local population needs more attention even
by researchers because the challenge of the development of
the European cultural landscape cannot solely be resolved by
desk work.
The ‘real world’ research finally not only brought forth a
great amount of practical and theoretical knowledge for the
researchers and for the stakeholders, it also generated
enormous personal benefit owing to the new insights and
many new friendships resulting from the close contact with
the villagers. These experiences were worthwhile and call for
more.
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329328
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Franz Ho
¨chtl, PhD (1970) graduated in agricultural biology at the
University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim (Germany) in 1997. Since 1998
he has been working as a junior scientist at the University of
Freiburg. From 1999 to 2003 he was collaborating in two research
projects about landscape development strategies for alpine com-
munities in Piedmont (Italy). At present his work encompasses the
analysis of the social and ecological effects of forest expansion in
South Germany and the design of instruments for its control.
Furthermore, he is the coordinator of a research project about
the synergies of monument and nature conservation in traditional
vineyards and historical parks.
Susanne Lehringer, PhD (1956) graduated in biology and partici-
pated in a postgraduate course in communication sciences at the
University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim where she received a scholar-
ship for scientific journalism from the Robert-Bosch-Foundation.
From 1983 to 1989 she has been working as editorial journalist for
environment at a weekly journal for Forestry. She is living in Italy
since 1989. From 1989 to 1998, she wrote as a freelance journalist
for science communication reporting from Italy to German media.
From 1998 to 2004 she has been collaborating in the presented
‘‘Piedmont-Project’’. Currently she is a freelancer in science com-
munication and environmental education.
Werner Konold, PhD (1950) is an agricultural scientist who
obtained his doctorate degree on the ecology of small running
waters. Thereafter, he worked as a researcher on the reclamation
of sanitary landfills, the vegetation of fallowed vineyards, and on
the history, limnology and vegetation of ponds and lakes in the
alpine foothills. Throughout this time, he engaged in general
research on the history and ecology of cultural landscapes. Further
research activities include the history and restoration of waters
and floodplains, change of rural landscapes, sustainable rural
development and nature conservation. Since 1997 he has been
the Chair of the Institute for Landscape Management at the Uni-
versity of Freiburg.
environmental science & policy 9 (2006) 322–329 329
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