Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Laura Lindenfeld

Second Committee Member

Linda Silka

Third Committee Member

Mario F. Teisl


In light of the increasingly complex sustainability problems facing local and global communities, and the need to improve the scientific basis for decision making, sustainability science elevates the role of research collaborations and communication among scientists and stakeholders in developing solutions. Although many universities are heeding the calls for collaborative research and are making progress on bringing diverse groups together to address sustainability issues, disconnections between the production of knowledge and its actual use in society persist. These persistent divisions indicate that we still have a great deal to learn about how to develop university- stakeholder partnerships that facilitate collaboration between the various actors in society.

Building successful, enduring research partnerships is essential for improving links between knowledge and action. The overarching question addressed in this dissertation is: “In the quest to develop sustainable solutions, what factors may strengthen or hinder the development of robust stakeholder-university research partnerships?” In answering this question, I interrogate the role of communication in partnership development, the influence of communication practices on stakeholder and researcher interactions, and ways that we can use interdisciplinary forms of and approaches to research to improve communication with partners. The goal of this research is to improve university and community capacity for collaborative, problem- focused research to address pressing societal problems.

Using quantitative and qualitative survey data from the Maine Municipal Official Survey and the Collaboration and Stakeholder Engagement Survey, each chapter addresses the overarching research question in different ways. In the first and second chapters, I develop theoretically and empirically supported statistical models to identify a set of factors influencing officials’ reported interest in developing a community- university research partnership and factors influencing officials’ participation preferences in community-university research partnerships, respectively. The models strengthen the capacity for co-learning by providing data on interest and preference alignment between potential project partners, and they provide data on stakeholder preferences and experiences that may improve communication between partners and inform partnership interactions. The third chapter bridges interdisciplinary theories from social psychology and communication to deepen the conversation about justice in community-university research partnerships. The dissertation concludes with lessons learned about developing community-university research partnerships.


Interdisciplinary in Communication and Sustainability Science