CoNavigator: Hands-on interdisciplinary problem solving

By Katrine Lindvig, Line Hillersdal and David Earle

1. Katrine Lindvig (biography)
2. Line Hillersdal (biography)
3. David Earle (biography)

How can we resolve the stark disparity between theoretical knowledge about interdisciplinary approaches and practical applications? How can we get from written guidelines to actual practices, especially taking into account the contextual nature of knowledge production; not least when the collaborating partners come from different disciplinary fields with diverse expectations and concerns?

For the past few years, we have been developing ways in which academic theory and physical interactions can be combined. The result is CoNavigator – a hands-on, 3-dimensional and gamified tool which can be used:

  • for learning purposes in educational settings
  • as a fast-tracking tool for interdisciplinary problem solving.

CoNavigator is a tool which allows groups to collaborate on a 3-dimensional visualisation of the interdisciplinary topography of a given field or theme. It addresses the contextual and local circumstances and the unique combinations of members in collaborative teams. CoNavigator is therefore short for both Context Navigation and Collaboration Navigation. The process of applying the tool takes around 3 hours.

Using CoNavigator

CoNavigator is composed of writable tiles and cubes to enable rapid, collaborative visualisation, as shown in the first figure below. The tactile nature of the tool is designed to encourage collaboration and negotiation over a series of defined steps.

Making the Tacit Visible and Tangible

Each participant makes a personal tool swatch. By explaining their skills to a person with a completely different background, the participant is forced to re-evaluate, re-formulate, and translate skills in a way that increases their own disciplinary awareness. Each competency that is identified is written onto a separate tool swatch. Following this, the participants create elements to go in a joint map of a particular topic. Rather than specifying challenges and problems, participants are encouraged to identify themes and interests, so as not to direct or narrow down the scope too early in the process. Each participant is encouraged to identify the key areas of the map from their perspective. Each point is written (or drawn) onto a single tile as shown in the two figures below.

Negotiating and Organizing a Context

Once the individual tiles are created (as many as are needed), the group must negotiate how each tile will be positioned within a collaborative map. During this process the tiles begin to cluster into small or bigger areas, reflecting the specific interests of the group. The emphasis is on themes and areas to be explored and navigated. The individual tiles of the participants are likely to carry themes, points and interests that are very different in terms of details and coverage, which must then also be taken into consideration when constructing the joint map.


The last step challenges the participants to connect to and navigate through themes and interests of the other participants. The new infrastructures created are then related to each participant’s individual tool swatch developed at the beginning of the session. Each participant then assesses where and how singular competencies can be used to deal with the newly developed infrastructure. An important point at this stage is to encourage participants to explore connections and arguments which are open-ended, instead of leading them towards a common goal, project or solution.

The topographies are easy to photograph for later use, while each participant takes with them their individual tool-swatch, which can help them to identify and contextualise their role in future collaborations.


CoNavigator was particularly inspired by a two day workshop format (Braintrust Labs), especially the idea of a Visual Lingua Franca, defined as visualisation used systematically to make communication possible between people not sharing the same discipline. Furthermore a number of students and groups of colleagues have helped us test the tool in various rounds.

Do you have experience with this or other tools to share? What do you think the biggest challenges are in interdisciplinary collaboration and how do you think this tool could help address them?

CoNavigator is composed of writable tiles and cubes to enable rapid, collaborative visualisation (copyright: David Earle)
Creating a joint map of a particular topic (copyright: David Earle)

To find out more more:
Lindvig, K., Hillersdal, L. and Earle, D. (2017). Interdisciplinary tool helps fast-track interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. Integrative Pathways, 39, 2: 3-5. Online: (PDF 2.3MB)


A video “Co-Navigator – A hands-on tool for interdisciplinary collaboration” is available on the Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) YouTube channel at

Biography: Katrine Lindvig PhD is an educational ethnographer at the Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She specialises in interdisciplinary education, especially the linkages between interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary teaching practices.

Biography: Line Hillersdal PhD is a social anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She specialises in interdisciplinary research collaboration and is particularly involved in how research objects are configured in collaborative practices.

Biography: David Earle is a concept developer and partner at Braintrust, an academic think tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops visual and tactile tools and methods to help students learn to navigate through their academic knowledge, and to work more effectively in multi- and interdisciplinary teams.

10 thoughts on “CoNavigator: Hands-on interdisciplinary problem solving”

  1. Dear Katrine, Line and David,
    Thank you very much for sharing this tool! As already mentioned in this blog, it seems that this tool has many potential and diverse uses; even in teaching and learning environments. I would like to ask you about the work you have already done applying this tool in different teams. Did you experience with intercultural settings already? If so, how was that experience with the Co-Navigator?
    Looking forward to seeing more on this tool!
    Than you very much!

    • Dear Bianca,
      Thanks for your question. We have had the chance to test the tool at various locations with various participants. At an international summer school on obesity in Copenhagen, at seminars with international collaborators and at workshops on international conferences. At these occasions we had participants coming from various parts of the world to collaborate on a shared theme. There were of course cultural differences in relation to how a theme of let’s say obesity is imagined, problematised or experienced. But we find the ‘disciplinary cultures’ to be more crucial in that regard. Coming from very different disciplines involved more ‘translation’ among participants in the groups and this negotiation were more prominent than what we experience was the case with people coming from different nationalities.

  2. Videos are quite helpful in showing the mechanics. I got a better sense for the tool (which seems like it could be quite useful in a number of situations) with the video. Thanks!

    • It looks really interesting, what you have done, and yes, there are definitely overlaps, though with some differences in process and in the role of the participants.

      • Indeed – I will have to contemplate your approach to see what might be integrated. Do you have a more in-depth academic paper on co-navigator- perhaps acase study?

  3. Do you guys have a video of a group using this tool? CoNavigator sounds like an awesome resource, but I am having trouble understanding the mechanics of the activity, particularly during the infrastructuring phase. Also it looks like the photos have colored circles and I am curious what these represent. It would be very helpful to be able to watch a video explanation!

    • Hi Suzi. Below is a link to the videos we use when presenting the CoNavigator tool. This will hopefully help you in visualising the mechanics of the activity. Please note, though, that these videos use earlier (far more rudimentary) prototypes of the tool, but the essential activity is the same. I hope this helps, but do please contact us if you would like to know more.


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