By Verena Radinger-Peer, Katharina Gugerell and Marianne Penker
How can implicit expectations and assumptions of team members in transdisciplinary research collaborations be identified?
We used Q-methodology as a tool to make diverse expectations and perceptions of transdisciplinary research collaborations tangible and thus negotiable.
Q-methodology is an established explorative, semi-quantitative method for investigating distinctive viewpoints of a given population based on inverted factor analysis. While we do not explain Q methodology here, it is increasingly used and we refer those who want to find out more to Watts and Stenner (2012).
One disadvantage of the Q-method is the amount of time and effort that has to be invested in developing the Q-statements. Here we offer the statements we developed through an extensive process in our study for others to use either in their own Q methodology or in surveys.
We developed the 34 Q-statements in the list below (translated from German), to elucidate varying expectations and assumptions about transdisciplinary research collaboration. Most are relevant to any transdisciplinary research, with a few focused on regional research, which will not always be applicable for others.
- In my opinion, the most important goal of our transdisciplinary project is to improve the actual situation in the region.
- I am concerned with understanding the theoretical and methodological features of transdisciplinary projects.
- It is easy for me to put my professional expertise behind me and enter into an open dialog within the team.
- I can easily empathize with and understand the priorities and attitudes of other team members.
- I believe that the most important aspect of our transdisciplinary project is learning from each other and reflecting together.
- I think that transdisciplinary projects promote more problem awareness and a higher level of ownership of solutions among the participants than more traditional research processes.
- I think that in our transdisciplinary project the project leader acts as a coordinator and represents the decisions of the groups externally and internally.
- I experience the high need for coordination resulting from the heterogeneity of the project team as inefficient.
- I think that despite the collaboration in the project team at eye level, the project management has the control and final decision-making power.
- The project has failed for me if no direct tangible results (eg., strategy, plans, etc.) are produced.
- I think that we work together as equals in our team.
- I believe that dealing with complex challenges requires consideration of non-scientific perspectives and knowledge.
- I believe that a common language that is easy for everyone to understand is a key success factor.
- I think the strength of transdisciplinary projects is to contribute to social change rather than research.
- I perceive the open-endedness of the project as uncertainty, since it is not clear where the journey will lead.
- I perceive the project as a risk, because by working with heterogeneous partners, results can occur for which I do not want to take responsibility.
- I consider it essential that all partners of the transdisciplinary research project are always involved in every step of the process.
- Due to the complexity of a transdisciplinary project, a predefined plan with clear goals and structure is essential.
- I believe that being involved in our transdisciplinary project provides me with recognition and benefits in my professional environment.
- It is important to me that through this project we develop and establish new ways of doing things in regional development practice.
- I believe that the heterogeneity of the participants improves the results of the project (compared to classical research collaborations).
- The project gives me the opportunity to experience self-efficacy and to actively participate in a transformation process.
- I think it is important to give the group building process enough time.
- I believe that the result will be worth the extra effort compared to “classically” organized research projects.
- I believe that for successful project implementation, disclosure and management of conflicts within the team is inevitable.
- I believe that all project partners should bear responsibility for the project – from project start to implementation.
- Due to the complexity of a transdisciplinary project, flexibility in planning, goal formulation and implementation is required.
- I find it quite difficult when my professional expertise is questioned in the group.
- I perceive participation in the transdisciplinary project as an opportunity for personal development.
- I consider the open-endedness of the project as an opportunity to experiment and try out new paths.
- It is important to me to already set the foundation for the transition to the post-project phase during the project.
- The recognition and support of the results by political decision-makers is crucial for our project success.
- I think that openness and tolerance are key qualities for collaboration in transdisciplinary processes.
- In our collaboration, I experience the willingness and openness to learn from each other and to get engaged in different working practices.
Advantages of using Q-methodology to assess expectations and assumptions in the early phases of transdisciplinary research.
Assessing expectations and assumptions early in the research can:
- elucidate a variety of expectations about transdisciplinary research collaboration and its outcomes;
- reveal subjective expectations of all project team members which can be clustered into different viewpoints (in our project, the Q-methodology resulted in two viewpoints that emphasized learning on the one hand and experimenting with new regional development practices on the other);
- highlight the important role of an epistemediator or knowledge broker in transdisciplinary research collaborations, especially to mediate different expectations between the realm of science and the realm of practice;
- reveal commonalities but also major discrepancies in the expected outcomes of transdisciplinary research collaboration among the project team members;
- identify different implicit tensions, especially between:
- “I” and “We”;
- disciplinary versus transdisciplinary research;
- research versus learning;
- emphasize the importance of reflexive practice in transdisciplinary research teams to bridge different thought collectives, support the research process and ‘robust’ outcomes, and maintain friendly relationships and trust within the transdisciplinary research team;
- integrate theory-based with context- and place-specific categories necessary for transdisciplinary research projects;
- provide a basis for allocating resources and planning next project steps in early research phases that are crucial for group formation and trust building.
Our learnings are based on our experiences and research conducted in a regional sustainable development project (Radinger-Peer et al. 2022). How have you gone about assessing expectations and assumptions in transdisciplinary research?
To find out more:
Radinger-Peer, V., Schauppenlehner-Kloyber, E., Penker, M. and Gugerell, K. (2022). Different Perspectives on a Common Goal? The Q-method as a Formative Assessment to Elucidate Varying Expectations Towards Transdisciplinary Research Collaborations. Sustainability Science. (Online – open-access): https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-022-01192-1
Watts, S. and Stenner, P. (2012). Doing Q Methodological Research: Theory, Method and Interpretation. SAGE Publications: London, United Kingdom.
Biography: Verena Radinger-Peer PhD is a senior researcher at the Department of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, Austria. Her research focuses on sustainable landscape development research, in particular processes of institutional change, agency and inter- and transdisciplinary research.
Biography: Katharina Gugerell PhD is appointed as tenure track professor ‘Sustainable Land-Use’ at the Department of Landscape, Spatial- and Infrastructure Science at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, Austria. Her research interests cover topics such as land-use-governance, creative and foresight methods, transdisciplinary and policy studies.
Biography: Marianne Penker PhD is Professor of Rural Sociology and Rural Development at the Department of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna, Austria. Her main interests cover sustainable rural development research as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to transdisciplinary research.