Lessons from a diverse sustainability science portfolio
University of Maine
Kathleen P. Bell, School of Economics
- Brian McGill, School of Biology & Ecology & SSI
- Tim Waring, School of Economics & SSI
- Eli Lazarus, Sustainability Solutions Initiative
- Jim Wilson, School of Marine Science
Abstract. Our project focuses on learning from the range of projects funded by Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI). Taking the diverse portfolio of sustainability science projects as our starting point, we are exploring: what factors contribute to success in this novel, interdisciplinary field; what forms of infrastructure promote the exchange of knowledge across disparate research projects; and what types of over-arching lessons can be gleaned from the full SSI portfolio. The SSI, through its creation of a portfolio of roughly 30 sustainability science projects, is effectively conducting a “natural experiment” which provides a unique opportunity to explore questions about sustainability science research practice, success, and knowledge exchange. We are using a classification framework (developed by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom) to describe and organize information about the SSI projects. We are also applying multiple methods to collect and analyze data on the portfolio of projects in an exploratory fashion to identify, among other factors, major axes of variation among projects, and interrelationships between project, team, and system attributes. Our methods include institutional analysis, survey research, social network analysis, multivariate and ordination techniques, and regression analysis. We are examining the nature of the SSI teams, the social-ecological systems they study, the stakeholders they interact with, and the solutions they are working towards. Our exploratory work in this novel domain will strengthen knowledge of the linkages across SSI projects, extend the capacity for cross-project comparisons, advance a common conceptual framework for SSI research projects, and elucidate more general principles that can advance the state of the sustainability science field at large.