Transferring the impacts of pilot-scale studies to other scales: Understanding the role of non-biophysical factors using field-based irrigation studies

Graeme Nicholas, M. S. Srinivasan*, Sam Beechener, Jeff Foote, Melissa Robson-Williams, Stephen FitzHerbert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Researchers are challenged to design research that can generate credible claims regarding cross-scale impact and adoption. However, the context in which new knowledge or innovation is developed and tested may differ from that for the uptake and use of those findings. This paper reports insight into the problem of designing impactful research and proposes a model to assist bio-physical researchers in accounting for non-biophysical context when moving between scales or settings. We treat the scaling problem as the one shifting contexts. The use of the model is illustrated by application in two New Zealand-based irrigation water use efficiency (WUE) field studies. We hypothesised that to successfully transfer the learnings from these two pilot studies to other scales it would be important to understand the influence of context on WUE practices. To support this process, we developed a social dynamics model (Composite Context Model, CCM) from existing social systems frameworks. The CCM maps influential non-biophysical dynamics to help interpret the WUE field study findings for other scales. The paper represents a contribution to researchers addressing two related challenges: that of making credible claims regarding the possible future impact of their research, and that of translating innovations across scales. By demonstrating the use of our CCM for documenting key non-biophysical variables, we aim to equip researchers with a practical tool to assist in the interpretation of findings across contexts, that include both biophysical and non-biophysical factors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106075
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Early online date15 Feb 2020
Publication statusFirst published - 15 Feb 2020


Bibliographical note

© 2020 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Hydrology
  • Irrigation efficiency
  • Non-biophysical context
  • Scale
  • Science impact
  • Science uptake

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