Research in the area of community level sustainable development provides a series of challenges not always encountered in other areas of investigation. As ecological and social systems are interconnected, complex, and unpredictable, their study falls outside of the usual disciplinary structure. Research in this area also requires the participation of local knowledge experts as they understand the histories of the ecological and social systems under study. Study of such systems is thus transdisciplinary, as it involves collaboration between local knowledge experts, stakeholders, and academic researchers.
This one-year SSHRC funded project led by Dr. Dale and Dr. Newman examined the challenges and potential of on-line tools to facilitate trans-disciplinary research collaboration. Electronic communications technology is playing a growing role in mitigating the time and funding stresses of assembling large trans-disciplinary teams, but these technologies raise their own set of questions. The project tested the electronic capacity to produce three different deliverables: a peer review of a draft journal article, the convening of a series of research meetings on urban sustainability, and the interdisciplinary drafting of a concluding chapter of a book manuscript.
Seven exploratory e-Dialogues testing the research outcomes were performed by trans-disciplinary teams, three domestic and four international. Following the dialogues, participants were surveyed and unanimously reported a high level of satisfaction with this method of interaction, though some difficulties were also noted. In addition, gender differences in the style of on-line communication noted in earlier literature were confirmed here. A peer-reviewed journal article has been submitted, and for further information, please contact Dr. Newman.