Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 1265–1286 | Cite as

Evaluating knowledge integration and co-production in a 2-year collaborative learning process with smallholder dairy farmer groups

  • Maria J. Restrepo
  • Margareta A. Lelea
  • Brigitte A. Kaufmann
Special Feature: Original Article People, Technology and Governance for Sustainability: The Contribution of Systems and Cyber-systemic Thinking
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: People, Technology and Governance for Sustainability: The Contribution of Systems and Cyber-systemic Thinking


Although knowledge integration and co-production are integral to transdisciplinary approaches to foster sustainable change in social–ecological systems, this type of research is usually not evaluated based on assessments of the learning process. While participants are meant to be central in such approaches, too often, their perspectives are not central to the evaluation. Moreover, there is limited empirical information about how new knowledge is transformed into action. We respond to these knowledge gaps by analyzing (A) farmers’ perspectives on the collaborative learning process and (B) how farmers’ new knowledge can serve as the basis for changed actions. Theoretically, we are guided by second-order cybernetics and have integrated the Control Loop Model with Learning Loops to extend Kirkpatrick (Evaluating training programs: the four levels, 2nd edn. Berrett-Koehler Publisher, San Francisco, 1998) four-level evaluation scheme. We apply this to evaluate a 2-year collaborative learning process with two smallholder dairy farmer groups in Nakuru County, Kenya that aimed to co-develop local sustainable pathways to reduce milk losses. Results showed that farmers learned by (1) implementing corrective actions based on known cause–effect relations (single-loop learning); (2) discovering new cause–effect relations and testing their effect (double-loop learning); and (3) further questioning and changing their aims (triple-loop learning). Highlighting the importance of knowledge integration and co-production, this collaboration between farmers, researchers, and field assistants improved the farmers’ ability to respond, adapt, and intentionally transform their farming system in relation with complex sustainability challenges. Results demonstrate that the potential of our evaluation scheme to better reflect learning and empowerment experienced by actors involved in transdisciplinary research for sustainability.


Transdisciplinary research Farmers’ perspectives Knowledge integration and co-production Change in practice Social–ecological systems Second-order cybernetics 



We thank the members of the Mukinduri Dairy SHG and the Lare Livelihoods Improvement CBO for their active participation in this research process. We also acknowledge Andrew Maina for his work as a field assistant/interpreter, as well as Eva Hilt and Samwel Nato for analyzing milk samples. In addition, we thank Jane Sawa sharing her expertise on fodder. We extend thanks to the RELOAD team at Egerton University in Kenya. The authors thank the two anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper and the editors of the special feature for their constructive and encouraging comments.


This research is conducted within the frame of the project, “Reduction of Post-Harvest Losses and Value Addition in East Africa Food Value Chains” (RELOAD) (# 031A247D) funded through an initiative for research on the Global Food Supply (GlobE) by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria J. Restrepo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Margareta A. Lelea
    • 1
    • 3
  • Brigitte A. Kaufmann
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (DITSL)WitzenhausenGermany
  2. 2.Social Ecology of Tropical and Subtropical Land-Use Systems, Institute of Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics (Hans-Ruthenberg-Institute)University of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  3. 3.Agricultural and Biosystems EngineeringUniversity of KasselWitzenhausenGermany

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