Infrastructuring for Cross-Disciplinary Synthetic Science: Meta-Study Research in Land System Science

How do land system scientists (LSS) use case studies to create more generalized knowledge? As part of the GLOBE project, Dr. Alyson Young and Dr. Wayne Lutters have now published their findings from a three-and-a-half year ethnographically-informed field study of research synthesis efforts of the Global Land Programme (, see below).

Using interviews, observations, document review, and surveys, they investigated the scientific work practices that go into producing meta-studies of land use and land cover change – the key synthesis process of LSS. Through four case studies, they detail the unique challenges that LS scientists face in the process of producing meta-studies and the strategies that we have developed to address them. In particular, the authors describe the challenges of finding, standardizing, interpreting, and validating radically disparate data to enable integration. The paper describes how these challenges ultimately lead to innovations in practice as LS scientists develop workarounds to deal with incommensurate data.

Among these are the use of external data sources for validation and explanation, such as the use of global datasets from the OECD and World Bank, and map-based visualizations to aid in sensemaking. These insights regarding the breakdowns and workarounds were then used to inform the design of GLOBE, technical tools to support the community’s needs to share, compare, and integrate data to better enable meta-study research.

Although the GLOBE system is now in its final phase of support, the continuing hope of the Global Land Programme is that the project’s introduction of a global online open-access, georeferenced database with thousands of LSS case studies, to which case study authors can freely contribute will help promote new standards for producing, sharing and reusing case study knowledge within LSS (link; full access requires a free username and password). Most importantly, GLOBE has helped inspire the LSS community to more actively assess the global relevance of their case study and synthesis work– especially through the use of global representativeness analysis in meta-study research (See also Magliocca et al. 2018; and this example of global representativeness analysis: doi:10.7933/K19S1P7K).

Dr. Young continues to be interested in how the LSS community addresses these issues. The next step in her research, together with GLP Executive Officer Ariane de Bremond, is to conduct a multiyear investigation of GLOBE ‘s impact on LSS practice, including the ways in which knowledge is produced, results are evaluated, and evidence is presented.

Young, A. L. and W. G. Lutters (2017). "Infrastructuring for Cross-Disciplinary Synthetic Science: Meta-Study Research in Land System Science." Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 26(1-2): 165-203.

Magliocca, N. R., E. C. Ellis, G. R. H. Allington, A. de Bremond, J. Dell’Angelo, O. Mertz, P. Messerli, P. Meyfroidt, R. Seppelt, and P. H. Verburg. 2018. Closing global knowledge gaps: Producing generalized knowledge from case studies of social-ecological systems. Global Environmental Change 50:1-14.

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