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Building with Nature Guideline
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Frame of reference to understand system interactions

Type: Method

Project Phase: 

Purpose: Improve communication between researchers and end-users and guide new research to important knowledge gaps

Requirements: none

Relevant Software: none


The Frame of Reference method aims to structure the interaction between end-users and specialists in application-oriented knowledge development. Key is to use the end-user's information requirements as an explicit starting point for knowledge development, and to continually match specialist research with the information need of end-users. A core element of the method is the definition of fit-for-purpose quantifiable performance indicators. The tool is potentially useful in any situation where miscommunication may arise in interaction between interdependent actors, with different states of knowledge, working on different parts of the same overall problem. Applying this method increases the probability that specialist research produces results that are applicable in policy development or practical application (van Koningsveld, 2003). The method relies on logic and structure and may thus be used by anyone.

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How to Use

The Frame of Reference approach can be applied in every situation where miscommunication can arise in interaction between interdependent actors, with different states of knowledge, working on different parts of the same overall problem. In a research setting, proper handling of the interaction between researchers and end-users requires three basic skills, which are brought together with the Frame of Reference approach:

  • The (will and) ability of researchers and end-users to interact effectively in a process of joint problem definition.
  • The (will and) ability to focus on-going research on this jointly defined problem (effort mainly required from the scientist).
  • The (will and) ability to adapt existing procedures and processes in practice to state-of-the-art knowledge (effort mainly required from the end-user).

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Practical Applications

Detailing Building with Nature designs

One of the main challenges in BwN is developing effective adaptive management strategies that successfully achieve a number of predetermined objectives. The BwN Adaptive Management Guideline provides methodologies to structure this cycle and to get the process started. The approach proposed is structured around the principles of the Frame of Reference method. Once one or more conceptual Eco-dynamic designs have been generated, e.g. following the Conceptual Design Tutorial, they need to be further detailed to assess their practical feasibility and economic viability.

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