Transforming science and society? Methodological lessons from and for transformation research

Transformation research has in the past years emerged as a shared lens to study and support radical societal change towards sustainability. Given the nascent and exploratory—yet highly normative and ambitious—character of transformation research, we aim to enhance the understanding of it: when do research designs qualify as transformation research, what is needed for putting transformation research into practice, and what are results?
To this end, we develop a framework that identifies criteria for designing and reflecting on research results, design and processes as transformation research. We employ this framework to reflect on our work in a research project that was designed in the spirit of transformation research: The TRAFIS project sought to understand and support the development of innovative coupled infrastructures to mobilize their critical role in achieving sustainability transformations.
Our results yield lessons and recommendations about what transformation research looks like in practice and how it can be strengthened, focussing on 1, redefining and re-valuing research for societal impact; 2, redesigning research to integrate perspectives on radical societal change; and 3, re-equipping researchers and research partners for social learning.
We conclude that while transformation research already contributes to framing and generating knowledge about real-world sustainability challenges, its transformative impact is still limited. Practicing transformation research requires far-reaching changes in the science system, but also continuous reflection about legitimacy, power relations, and impacts.
Hölscher, K. & Wittmayer, J., Hirschnitz-Garbers, M., Olfert, A. & Walther, J., Schiller, G., Brunnow, B. (2021). Transforming science and society? Methodological lessons from and for transformation research. Research Evaluation.
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March 22, 2021