Transdisciplinary research in water sustainability: What’s in it for an engaged researcher-stakeholder community?

Laura Ferguson
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA; fergusla@onid.oregonstate.edu

Samuel Chan
Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA; samuel.chan@oregonstate.edu

Mary V. Santelmann
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA; mary.santelmann@oregonstate.edu

Bryan Tilt
Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA; bryan.tilt@oregonstate.edu

ABSTRACT: This study uses semi-structured interviews and an online survey to explore the structure, challenges and outcomes of a five-year National Science Foundation-funded water scarcity modelling project in the Willamette River Basin of Oregon, USA. The research team chose to facilitate broader impacts by engaging stakeholders from the study’s inception (e.g. developing grant proposal, study implementations, defining model run scenarios) through its completion and extension of findings. The team used various engagement formats (field trips, small and large group meetings) and encountered many challenges, including the lack of a shared vision, different professional languages, research complexities and project management. Through stakeholder engagement the team overcame challenges, facilitated learning, and improved and extended the research process and results. Participation in engagement events was positively correlated with beneficial broader impact outcomes. We compare these outcomes with NSF’s five broader impact criteria: advance scientific discovery and understanding, broaden participation of underrepresented groups, enhance research infrastructure, broadly disseminate results, and benefit society. We show that stakeholder engagement is one method to achieve the five original NSF criteria and suggest that a sixth criterion can be achieved through stakeholder engagement – that of developing the research community.

KEYWORDS: Broader impacts, climate change, modelling, stakeholder engagement, Willamette River Valley