Original Research - Special Collection: SAMEA 7th Biennial Conference 2019

Revealing mechanisms in a transdisciplinary Community Reforestation Research Programme

Michael R. Ward, Eureta Rosenberg
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 8, No 1 | a467 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v8i1.467 | © 2020 Michael R. Ward, Eureta Rosenberg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 February 2020 | Published: 23 October 2020

About the author(s)

Michael R. Ward, Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Faculty of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa
Eureta Rosenberg, Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Faculty of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa

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Background: The Community Reforestation Research Programme is a joint initiative between eThekwini Municipality and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Addressing complex sustainable development issues requires collaboration across disciplines and between researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. Understanding how this occurs has the potential to inform and improve transitions to sustainability.

Objectives: A summative evaluation of one project within the broader programme was commissioned to develop in-depth understandings into the underlying systemic influences or mechanisms that supported or hindered transdisciplinary research and practices.

Method: A realist evaluation method informed the analysis of questionnaires, documents, interviews, focus group discussions and participation in programme reporting and planning processes. This approach supported the development of a contextual profile within which underlying mechanisms were identified. These mechanisms were considered in relation to the outcomes of the project.

Results: The main mechanisms identified in the evaluation process related to orientations to research, orientations to education, orientations to value creation, orientations to environmental management and orientations to organisational leadership. These orientations either enabled or hindered particular outcomes in the research on, and environmental management of, community reforestation in the context of climate change. The mechanisms also had significant implications for understanding ‘what worked well for whom in what circumstances and how’.

Conclusion: Transdisciplinary research and practice across institutional boundaries are enabled or hindered by underlying mechanisms. By identifying and understanding these mechanisms, insights were developed that have the potential to enhance transdisciplinary sustainability initiatives at the local level.


Realist evaluation; Evaluation methods; Transdisciplinary research; Community based; Sustainable development


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Crossref Citations

1. Knowledge integration in transdisciplinary sustainability science: Tools from applied critical realism
Jessica Cockburn
Sustainable Development  vol: 30  issue: 2  first page: 358  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1002/sd.2279