In sustainability science, the tension between more descriptive–analytical and more process-oriented approaches is receiving increasing attention. The latter entails a number of roles for researchers, which have largely been neglected in the literature. Based on the rich tradition of action research and on a specific process-oriented approach to sustainability transitions (transition management), we establish an in-depth understanding of the activities and roles of researchers. This is done by specifying ideal-type roles that researchers take when dealing with key issues in creating and maintaining space for societal learning—a core activity in process-oriented approaches. These roles are change agent, knowledge broker, reflective scientist, self-reflexive scientist and process facilitator. To better understand these ideal-type roles, we use them as a heuristic to explore a case of transition management in Rotterdam. In the analysis, we discuss the implications of this set of ideal-type roles for the self-reflexivity of researchers, role conflicts and potentials, and for the changing role of the researcher and of science in general.

Action research, Process-oriented sustainability science, Roles of researchers, Transdisciplinarity, Transition management,
Sustainability Science
Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT)

Wittmayer, J.M, & Schäpke, N. (2014). Action, research and participation: roles of researchers in sustainability transitions. Sustainability Science, 9(4), 483–496. doi:10.1007/s11625-014-0258-4