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Expertise in research integration and implementation for tackling complex problems: when is it needed, where can it be found and how can it be strengthened?

Bammer, Gabriele; O’Rourke, Michael; O’Connell, Deborah; Neuhauser, Linda; Midgley, Gerald; Klein, Julie Thompson; Grigg, Nicola J; Gadlin, Howard; Elsum, Ian R; Bursztyn, Marcel; Fulton, Elizabeth A; Pohl, Christian; Smithson, Michael; Vilsmaier, Ulli; Bergmann, Matthias; Jaeger, Jill; Merkx, Femke; Vienni Baptista, Bianca; Burgman, Mark A.; Walker, Daniel H; Young, John; Bradbury, Hilary; Crawford, Lynn; Haryanto, Budi; Pachanee, Cha aim; Polk, Merritt; Richardson, George P


Gabriele Bammer

Michael O’Rourke

Deborah O’Connell

Linda Neuhauser

Julie Thompson Klein

Nicola J Grigg

Howard Gadlin

Ian R Elsum

Marcel Bursztyn

Elizabeth A Fulton

Christian Pohl

Michael Smithson

Ulli Vilsmaier

Matthias Bergmann

Jill Jaeger

Femke Merkx

Bianca Vienni Baptista

Mark A. Burgman

Daniel H Walker

John Young

Hilary Bradbury

Lynn Crawford

Budi Haryanto

Cha aim Pachanee

Merritt Polk

George P Richardson


© 2020, The Author(s). Expertise in research integration and implementation is an essential but often overlooked component of tackling complex societal and environmental problems. We focus on expertise relevant to any complex problem, especially contributory expertise, divided into ‘knowing-that’ and ‘knowing-how.’ We also deal with interactional expertise and the fact that much expertise is tacit. We explore three questions. First, in examining ‘when is expertise in research integration and implementation required?,’ we review tasks essential (a) to developing more comprehensive understandings of complex problems, plus possible ways to address them, and (b) for supporting implementation of those understandings into government policy, community practice, business and social innovation, or other initiatives. Second, in considering ‘where can expertise in research integration and implementation currently be found?,’ we describe three realms: (a) specific approaches, including interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, systems thinking and sustainability science; (b) case-based experience that is independent of these specific approaches; and (c) research examining elements of integration and implementation, specifically considering unknowns and fostering innovation. We highlight examples of expertise in each realm and demonstrate how fragmentation currently precludes clear identification of research integration and implementation expertise. Third, in exploring ‘what is required to strengthen expertise in research integration and implementation?,’ we propose building a knowledge bank. We delve into three key challenges: compiling existing expertise, indexing and organising the expertise to make it widely accessible, and understanding and overcoming the core reasons for the existing fragmentation. A growing knowledge bank of expertise in research integration and implementation on the one hand, and accumulating success in addressing complex societal and environmental problems on the other, will form a virtuous cycle so that each strengthens the other. Building a coalition of researchers and institutions will ensure this expertise and its application are valued and sustained.


Bammer, G., O’Rourke, M., O’Connell, D., Neuhauser, L., Midgley, G., Klein, J. T., …Richardson, G. P. (2020). Expertise in research integration and implementation for tackling complex problems: when is it needed, where can it be found and how can it be strengthened?. Palgrave communications, 6(1),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 27, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 13, 2020
Publication Date Dec 1, 2020
Deposit Date Nov 22, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 16, 2020
Journal Palgrave Communications
Electronic ISSN 2055-1045
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 1
Article Number 5
Keywords Complex networks; Science, technology and society; Social policy
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© The Author(s) 2020

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material.

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