Sustainability research: Organizational challenge for intermediary research institutes

S.F. Spoelstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The agricultural sustainability challenge is often formulated in terms of meeting the increasing demand for food of a growing and wealthier world population while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts. Strategies to meet this challenge include increasing agricultural yields, saving land and diverting agricultural produce from use for feed and fuel. The paper compares such strategies based on natural sciences with alternatives captured under the umbrella of sustainability sciences, based on systems and mixed sciences approaches. Theoretical and methodological foundations of various branches of sustainability have been developed over the last decades at academia, but although experimentation -putting theory into action- has been carried out a in The Netherlands to a considerable degree, this has hardly led to institutional change of research constellation itself. It is argued that intermediary research institutes by their position in between academia, practice and between government and society are in principle well positioned to incorporate sustainability science. This requires boundary management beyond the traditional boundaries of biological and technical disciplines and their fields of application and retention of methodology and knowledge within with units of scientists with complementary knowledge and skills. To become effective doing sustainability science can probably only be achieved after a prolonged period of experimentation and evaluation, while the shared base of theories, methods and networks form the core of such a knowledge system, as contrasted to disciplinary groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-81
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • integrated assessment
  • systems
  • agriculture
  • land
  • innovation
  • framework
  • humanity
  • science
  • consequences
  • rethinking


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