FIDEA - Frameworks for Interdisciplinary Enviromental Analysis

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Frameworks for Interdisciplinary Environmental Analysis

The FIDEA group conducts interdisciplinary environmental research from both theoretical and empirical point of view. We investigate and develop the conceptual basis for analysing environmental issues from a problem oriented, comprehensive perspective. At the same time, we build on this theoretical work and analyse the complex interaction between the social and ecological systems in various empirical studies. Our approach is characterised by an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue between different fields of environmental knowledge.

Integrating qualitative and quantitative methods is in the core of our activities. The group develops soft system models of socio-ecological interaction and applies them to scrutinise expert and lay-people interviews, questionnaires, policy documents, and media content. These analyses are combined with quantitative data on the various aspects of environmental change. We examine past trends and build scenarios for the future.

Our empirical studies focus on various environmental questions such as climate change, eutrophication, energy, transport, agro-food, and forest biodiversity. Our results are broadly applicable to environmental policy, management, education, and communication. Such a wide range of topics, materials, and methods are fruitfully brought together due to the theoretical research we conduct and the mutually developed approach of the group. Continuous self-reflection and specific research focused on the concept and practice of interdisciplinarity enhance the ability to detect, understand and avoid many pitfalls in interdisciplinary research.

The FIDEA group builds on but is not limited to a collaboration of researchers from three organizations:

What exactly are we doing? See two examples:


Petri Tapio
+358 40 555 2963
Korkeavuorenkatu 25 A 2
00130 Helsinki Finland


University of Helsinki-logo University of Turku-logo Environmental Policy Centre at Finnish Environment Institute-logo Futures Research Centre at University of Turku-logo

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Empirical work - climate and traffic

In the CAST project, we map past trends of national transport volumes and transport carbon dioxide emissions in 1980-2008 and build scenarios for the future up to 2030. We identify key drivers of transport volume and efficient means for emission reduction by exploring transport experts’ views. In addition, as the mass media plays a key role in formulation of environmental policies, we look at how the climate and transport questions are discussed in newspapers. The cases studied in the CAST project are the carbon dioxide emission based car tax reform in Finland that was launched 2008 and the EU Energy and Climate Change Package launched in 2009. Three questions are addressed (see the Table below).

Table: Interdisciplinary questions, transdisciplinary methods – the research questions of the CAST project

Table: Interdisciplinary questions, transdisciplinary methods

To answer the first question we perform an analysis of national statistics for 2008-2010. The future development is addressed via a two-rounded Delphi study, where expert and interest group views of the future development up to 2020 are gathered and analysed. The second question is answered through the Delphi study and a content analysis of the discussion in the news cycle of mass media. The third question is under scrutiny in the Delphi and media studies, as well.

We analyze the interview and newspaper data by using the Environmental Protection Process (EPP)-model[LINKKI], which is one of the key conceptual products of broad interdisciplinarity made by the FIDEA group. The quantitative data is analysed via cluster analysis that groups similar expert views on the future.

Project name: The climate discussion of transport (CAST) – An interdisciplinary environmental analysis. Funding from: Academy of Finland. Project durance: 2009-2012.

Researchers: Katri Huutoniemi, Laura Joki, Jari Lyytimäki, Nina Nygrén, Petri Tapio, Vilja Varho.

Advisory group: David Banister (University of Oxford), Eeva Furman (SYKE), Julie Thompson Klein (Wayne State University), Jarmo Vehmas (FFRC), Risto Willamo (University of Helsinki). Read more about the CAST project

More info:

Lyytimäki, J. & Tapio, P. 2009. Climate change as reported in the press of Finland: From screaming headlines to penetrating background noise. International Journal of Environmental Studies 66(6): 723-735.
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Get full paper from the author (pdf): jari.lyytimaki(a)

Tapio, P., Huutoniemi, K., Lyytimäki, J., Varho, V., Willamo, R. 2009. An Inter- and Transdisciplinary Analysis of the Climate Discussion of Transport. Paper presented at the conference Towards Knowledge Democracy, University of Leiden, the Netherlands, August 26, 2009.
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Theoretical work - the EPP model

The Environmental Protection Process (EPP) model is a qualitative system model developed for broad interdisciplinary environmental research and education. There are several versions of the model. The following version has been published in the journal Ambio. Here, we demonstrate the use of the model by using transport examples.

The EPP model

Fig. The Environmental Protection Process (EPP) model (Tapio & Willamo 2008)

The topic under study, transport, is a form of human action. It is affected by various societal, individual and ecological factors. Also transport infrastructure, such as road, rail and bicycle networks, plays an important role. Any human action requires intakes from the ecological environment, such as crude oil, and releases outputs to the ecological environment, such as carbon dioxide emissions. Intakes and outputs, in turn, change the ecological environment, for example by increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the air. The change typically turns into secondary impacts: due to increased emissions the atmospheric radiative forcing increases and causes climate change. These changes and ecological impacts also have impacts to the human environment, such as increased risks for floods causing damages to buildings.

Up to this point of the model, the process has proceeded causally, or ‘automatically’. However, the impacts as such are not automatically perceived as problems but may or may not be defined so by various human actors, such as citizens, politicians, scientists, or media. As can be seen from our media study, these perceived problems change over time. If problems are considered severe enough, the process may result in setting concrete targets, as in the EU climate and energy package launched in 2009, or to less concrete targets as set in the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (CoP15) 2009.

As a next phase in the model, specific means have to be chosen to combat the environmental problem. Depending on what is considered the most effective, comfortable, or suitable way to reach the target, the means may be focused on any component of the EPP model described above:

In some cases, measures aiming at the problem definition process may mean ignoring the problem or adoption of contrary evidence showing that there is no problem (for example, that the climate is not changing due to human releases of greenhouse gases). Means focusing on the impacts might include improvement of flood control, or geo-engineering by increasing particle concentration in the air. Means focusing at the change might include increased carbon sequestration, which is a process of removing carbon dioxide directly from the air. Means focusing at ecological factors might include changing topography by building tunnels and bridges to reduce energy consumption of transport. Means aiming at the emissions may be carbon capture and storage or low-emission vehicles. Means aiming at human action may be technical (such as a shift to more energy efficient vehicles), or social (mode shift from road to rail). Means aiming at infrastructure affect the everyday conditions of human behaviour, such as increasing the number of railway stations for local trains. Means aiming at individual factors focus on the informational, ethical, emotional as well as experience and resource conditions of individuals, such as information campaigns, advertisements etc. Means aiming at societal factors focus on changes in policies, administration, legislation, economy, religion, science, education, mass media and, social activism.

More info:

Tapio, P. & Willamo, R. (2008) Developing interdisciplinary environmental frameworks. Ambio – A Journal of the Human Environment 37(2): 125-133.
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Get full paper from the author (pdf): petri.tapio(a)