Give-and-take matrix for transdisciplinary projects

By Michael Stauffacher and Sibylle Studer

1. Michael Stauffacher (biography)
2. Sibylle Studer (biography)

Transdisciplinary research projects often have multiple components, including sub-projects that involve co-production with various stakeholders, more standard discipline-based pieces gathering specific understandings of the problem, and investigations into options for transforming the problem situations.

How can the individual parts of transdisciplinary research projects be effectively aligned? How can interactions and integration within the whole research team be improved? What’s needed to make mutual expectations explicit and to identify possibilities for further collaboration?

The give-and-take matrix provides a structured process to:

  • Specify links between sub-projects and who will do what
  • Connect different contributions
  • Identify knowledge to be shared between sub-projects and how that will occur
  • Assist with problem framing at the beginning of a project
  • Once a project is underway, explore how project results relate to each other and identify useful further analyses
  • Provide a way of cross-referencing when a project report is written.

The initial idea of the give-and-take matrix goes back to two observations in large research projects. First, there are often unspoken and sometimes even unconscious mutual expectations with respect to specific outputs among the different project partners. Second, integration across the different sub-projects is needed but there are not enough resources available to plan and structure the integration process. This simple tool helps tackle both issues. It does not resolve them, but instead raises awareness and prepares project participants for further steps.

How does the matrix work?

Using the give-and-take matrix essentially has 4 steps, which ideally occur in one workshop which is scheduled for at least three hours. For a face-to-face workshop, the venue should be large enough to accommodate all the research project members, as well as having break-out possibilities for a number of sub-groups. For an online workshop, a format that enables break-out sessions is required. In both cases, it can be helpful to employ a skilled facilitator.

Step 1:

Copies of a core blank matrix are provided on A3 or larger sheets of paper or a virtual flipchart (eg., Mural or Miro). The matrix lists all the sub-projects on each axis as shown in the figure below.

The members of each sub-project meet to address the following questions:

  • what would we like to get from each of the other sub-projects (“desired TAKEs”)?
  • what can we offer to each of the other sub-projects (“proposed GIVEs”)?

These “GIVES” and “TAKES” can include concepts, data, contributions to problem analysis or data interpretation, answers to ‘upstream’ research questions, infrastructure or network contacts, locations for holding meetings and facilitation.

Step 2:

Sub-groups are then formed comprising representatives of (usually) 2 to 3 sub-projects, so that all combinations of sub-projects are covered. The exact number of groups will depend on the number of sub-projects and team members in each sub-project.

Each sub-group then meets. The representatives of each sub-project present their desired TAKEs and proposed GIVEs. This generally involves considerable discussion to clarify and specify exactly what is intended.

Step 3:

Sub-project members reconvene to share, combine and review the results of each sub-group discussion. In particular, they discuss how feasible it is to provide:

    1. the TAKES which the other sub-projects would like from them
    2. the GIVES which they have proposed.

In the problem framing stage of the project, this may involve modifying their research design. In later stages, this may lead to sketching additional (cross sub-project) analyses or cross-referencing in reports and papers.

Step 4:

The whole project team meets in plenary. Each sub-project uses the give-and-take matrix to present their now revised and finalized GIVEs to the other sub-projects.

It is useful to then define concrete follow-up actions detailing necessary adaptations in the different sub-projects in response to the GIVEs promised and the TAKEs received. Development of a written agreement that aims to be binding can be helpful.

Blank give-and-take matrix (Source: Michael Stauffacher)


We have now successfully used the matrix in a range of different projects, generally at the initial stage of proposal writing or at the project kick-off, where it is most useful, but also later in the research process to get “soft alignment” and produce final reports with pertinent cross-references between different sub-projects.

We would be pleased to hear about your experiences using it. Are there other tools that you have found to be helpful for clarifying expectations and contributions across sub-projects in transdisciplinary research? Have you found other ways to enhance communication and collaboration across sub-projects? Can you suggest good practices to follow-up on knowledge integration after such a workshop?

To find out more:
Stauffacher, M. (2021). Give-and-take matrix. td-net toolbox profile (16). Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences: td-net toolbox for co-producing knowledge. (Online) (DOI): Also available at:

Biography: Michael Stauffacher PhD is a professor and co-director of the Transdisciplinarity Lab at ETH-Zurich in Switzerland. He is a member of the board of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences. His research interests are contested energy infrastructures, real-world/living laboratories, and transdisciplinary research.

Biography: Sibylle Studer PhD is head of project methods at the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net), Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, Bern, Switzerland. She is responsible for the td-net toolbox. Her interests are tools, methods and capacity building for transdisciplinary research; challenges for transdisciplinary communities regarding method development; digital transformation; and diversity.

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