Coping with decline: enabling learning and reflection

The research design of the study BESTandermatt was described in Chapter 3. This article aims at describing the co-production of various forms of knowledge using a transdisciplinary research (TDR) design.

A TDR process links societal problem solving with scientific knowledge production in a process of knowledge co-production. Focusing on a target of change that is already concrete or to be concretised, various societal actors that are relevant for the goal attainment are gathered.

Transdisciplinarity can be understood as a mediating element among the mutually interdependent long-term and accompanying study BESTandermatt. Aiming at reflection and learning processes in the accompanying study, explicating the implicit knowledge is an important step towards these goals that is accomplished in the long-term study. It focuses on the reconstruction of participants’ practical, milieu-specific, collective orientation knowledge, the tacit knowledge.

Implicit knowledge constitutes the shared horizon of values and belief systems of a group and is an important component of its shared space of experience. Therefore, its reconstruction with assistance of a reconstructive method is vital.

Using the documentary method of interpretation, the researchers explicate interviewees’ implicit knowledge which they are not fully conscious of yet is guiding their behaviour. The perception and reflection of the interviewees determine the focus of the long-term study. The documentary method of interpretation aims at the reconstruction and comparison of implicit, action guiding knowledge, which can be reconstructed on the basis of stories or descriptions. It requires careful, properly reflected handling of the data gathered.

Moreover, as transdisciplinary approaches take into account the diversity of lifeworld (the everyday knowledge shared by all people who belong to a particular social entity) and the scientific perception of problems, goals and solutions, the perception and reflection of researchers plays an important role in the research process. Their reflectiveness, concerning their approach and their perception in the area of study, is an indicator of quality in research practice.

Within the research team, evaluative and reflective sessions are held regularly during the interview and analysis phase. Issues identified and reconstructed behavioural patterns towards changes brought about by the resort are critically discussed, reflected and adapted based on the basis of the joint discussion. So far, thirteen people have been interviewed three times (in each of the three substudies) and seven people twice (in the second and third substudy) with narrative individual interviews.

The analysis of these interviews resulted in a typification of different attitudes. As a result, the fourth substudy describes three different attitudes and ways of dealing with change processes brought about by the tourism resort in Andermatt. The description is based on various aspects perceived differently on the spatial, social and temporal level. Distinguished are

  1. the identifying attitude,
  2. the ambivalent attitude, and
  3. the preservationist attitude.

By explicating the respondents’ subjective perception and abstracting it in the form of a typology, the long-term study produces scientific knowledge relevant to tourism research. Thereby, knowledge regarding the perception of the current situation (systems knowledge) and residents’ norms and values, pointing towards a desired future status (target knowledge), is scientifically reconstructed.

Furthermore, the data material from the individual interviews collected from the first to the fourth substudy was subjected to a secondary analysis. In this analysis, local-specific value concepts (patterns) about tourism in Andermatt are reconstructed. They manifest themselves as beliefs that can be explained communicatively or argumentatively and guide the perception and evaluation of the interviewees1. Thus, the previous service culture, the development of a new service culture by the resort and new guests, and the evaluation by representatives of the target culture (the population) are described2. This makes it clear, among other things, that tourism should not develop in isolation from the place, but should be oriented towards local conditions and develop together.

Generating scientific knowledge is only one part of the transdisciplinary study BESTandermatt. As described in Chapter 3, the accompanying study aims at motivating the local population to develop ideas of transformation on their own (transformative knowledge), to connect with municipal authorities, to form a network and to exchange with each other.

To produce such versatile knowledge, interacting with stakeholders from the beginning is a necessity. People affected are not treated as mere objects under observation, but as active subjects of research who can contribute to research. To this extent, the objective is not to do research on or for people but with people. Suggestions of attendees of the public information event are taken up and contribute to the research design.

Members of the local advisory group discuss issues that are of concern to the residents regarding the resort development and develop actions to be taken by themselves. They consider how to convey the concerns of the public to the person in charge of the resort development or to the political authorities. They formulate requests to municipal authorities and organise events to exchange with representatives of the investor, Andermatt Swiss Alps (ASA).

Thus, constructive efforts are made to find viable solutions. Participants at outcome conferences discuss the study results. They jointly develop proposals for measures to improve the situation to be addressed at local and cantonal authorities and the investor (ASA).

This corresponds with the responsive research design, which is based on the assumption that giving participants the chance to reflect on their evaluations enables them to consider and actively change their points of view and thus change their scope of action. It enables a reflection and learning process for all persons involved at both the individual and collective levels.

Read more about the responsive, participatory approaches in the transdisciplinary project BESTandermatt in Chapter 5.

How do you evaluate the process so far? What do you think is particularly worth knowing?

Author: Caroline Näther

  1. Baur, N., Löw, M., Hering, L., Raschke, A. L. & Stoll, Florian. (2014): Die Rationalität lokaler Wirtschaftspraktiken im Friseurwesen. Der Beitrag der „Ökonomie der Konventionen“ zur Erklärung räumlicher Unterschiede wirtschaftlichen Handelns. In: Dieter Bögenhold (Hg.), Soziologie des Wirtschaftlichen: Alte und neue Fragen (S. 299–327). Springer VS. 

  2. Müller, H. & Thiem, M. (1995): Tourism and Cultural Identity. The Tourist Review, 4, 14-19.