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17/08/2023 | Science is facing a multitude of complex societal challenges and problems. Climate change, pandemics, resource scarcity or the rapidly developing artificial intelligence are just some of the current demands on the scientific community. In addition, questions of fair access to resources, the use of research results and the recognition of different cultural perspectives must be answered.

"It is obvious that with the new demands on science, evaluation criteria that have become outdated must also change," says Professor Raimund Bleischwitz, scientific director of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT).

This is precisely where the "Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment", founded last December at the European level, comes in. The coalition aims to improve research evaluation processes, rethink traditional evaluation methods and promote modern approaches. In this way, cooperation between disciplines and with societal groups is to be evaluated, which ultimately improves research results and their societal impact. In doing so, CoARA actively involves scientists.

Meanwhile, 527 international scientific institutions and research alliances have joined the coalition as member organisations by signing the CoARA agreement (as of July 2023).

The Leibniz Association is also one of the first members. Raimund Bleischwitz and a team at ZMT, in consultation with the Leibniz Association, have successfully assembled a consortium of sixteen partner institutions from ten countries to address the assessment of transformative scientific work. This underscores ZMT's approach of partnering at eye level to provide training and capacity development in addition to research, and also to work towards long-term sustainable approaches.

CoARA has just confirmed the first international teams, including the working group "Towards Transformations: Transdisciplinarity, applied/practice-based research, and impacts", in which ZMT, the Leibniz Institute for Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) and the German Association of University Teachers will focus together with international partners on the evaluation of transdisciplinarity in terms of its importance for solving pressing societal problems. The collaboration with Professor Marc Wolfram and Jörn Weinhold from the the IÖR underlines both the good cooperation and the weight of the Leibniz Association in international research.

Raimund Bleischwitz says: "We are pleased to be part of the first round of international working groups and to have leadership responsibility. In view of the many pressing environmental problems, research has a responsibility to work towards social change. Being able to lead an international team to design new evaluation criteria for a transformational role for research is an important step in this direction. We will also look at international partnerships with vulnerable coastal communities in the Global South."

About the new working group "Towards Transformations: Transdisciplinarity, applied/practice-based research, and impacts".

The working group "Towards Transformations: Transdisciplinarity, applied/practice-based research, and impacts" comprises three subgroups working in parallel and was approved by the CoARA Steering Board on 7 August. A two-year interactive and inclusive co-production process is planned from November 2023.

The three subgroups will work on closely related topics:

The ZMT-led team aims to improve the measurement of societal outcomes and impacts, and to develop guidelines for research, organisations, and narrative CVs to advance more responsible ways of assessing research and researchers. Running pilots at a later stage, it delivers international standards for transformative research.

Partners in the group are Laura Niemi from the University of Turku (Finland), Tommaso Ciarli from the University of Maastricht (Netherlands) and the United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology Maastricht (UNU MERIT).

Together with FORMAS, the Swedish Science Council for Sustainable Development, IÖR leads a group that focuses on evaluating transdisciplinary research, i.e. a critical and self-reflexive research approach that relates societal to scientific problems and produces new knowledge together with (non-scientific) actors."Transdisciplinarity is a crucial research mode for addressing sustainability transformations and forms an important cornerstone of the IÖR research programme. However, this mode has so far been insufficiently considered by funding bodies and evaluation rules," says Prof. Marc Wolfram, Director of IÖR. "We therefore hope that our work in the CoARA working group will contribute to the design of new evaluation standards. These new standards should ensure that the specific qualities of transdisciplinary research are captured and thereby decisively improve their recognition in science and politics."

The third group, led by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW,) will look at the impact of applied/practice-based research. The working group will collect good practice examples for the evaluation of different types of applied practice-based research and propose corresponding indicators to be discussed with funders and policy-makers.