Roads to Transdisciplinarity: Developing a Sustainable Management Approach


  • Fritz Schiemer Department of Limnology and Bio-Oceanography, Faculty of Life Sciences, University Vienna, Vienna



Exploring strategies for sustainable management requires a scientific and problem-oriented approach combining environmental and socio-economic aspects in view of the manifold issues and often conflicting stakeholder interests. It calls for more interdisciplinarity in science, translational research, and transdisciplinarity in form of science-practitioners interactions. By tradition, scientists are usually confined to specialized niches of knowledge and do not easily embark on interdisciplinary endeavors, which demand new research approaches. Translational research – defining ways to communicate with practitioners and introducing research findings into political decisions – demands new and diverse formats of education, training and networking.

I use examples of personal engagement in water issues over the last 30 years to outline the challenges of applied research and science-policy interactions. The first two examples refer to a long-term engagement in resource management of SE-Asian reservoirs and lakes. Following an early ecosystem-oriented study on the Parakrama Samudra reservoir in Sri Lanka (1979-1982), a multidisciplinary EU-program was launched. The international project, carried out by a consortium of Asian and European scientists, provided a large amount of factual information (Schiemer et al. 2008) and a wealth of experience regarding the challenges to transfer scientific knowledge into realworld politics.

The second set of experience refers to the management of the riverine landscape which a wide variety of ecological services, e.g. flood retention, drinking water supply, conservation, hydropower production and navigation. These represent partially conflicting interests of different political power. Human impacts over the past 150 years through river regulation, damming and pollution have reduced some of the service capacities and call for rehabilitation measures. In the early 1980-ties I became engaged in a major public discussion over a hydropower project of the Danube in Austria. As a result of the critical position taken by scientists, we were invited by the government to take part in a commission of practitioners, planners and scientists to develop long-term management concepts.

The panel was requested to find science-based compromises for conflicting stakeholder interests. This engagement forced scientists of various disciplines – ecologists, hydrologists, and geomorphologists – to develop a common understanding of the vulnerability of river-floodplain systems to human interventions. Over the past thirty years, scientists played a significant role in this discussion process, defining environmental targets and developing benchmarking and assessment criteria for management options. This involvement was also a school of learning regarding interaction with stakeholders and decision makers.

KEYWORDS: Aquatic resource management, eco-hydrology, eco-sociology, translational science, stakeholder controversies, co-management, fisheries, trophic state, river restoration

Author Biography

Fritz Schiemer, Department of Limnology and Bio-Oceanography, Faculty of Life Sciences, University Vienna, Vienna

Department of Limnology and Bio-Oceanography, Faculty of Life Sciences, University Vienna,