Towards a theory of change to institutionalise integration experts and expertise

By The Aeschiried Integrators

Author biographies

Integration experts and expertise are crucial for realising the full potential of inter- and transdisciplinary research. However, the expertise of those who lead integration is poorly recognized in the current academic system and these academics often experience a range of impediments to their careers. What can be done to recognise integration experts and expertise and to support the careers of such experts?

We define integration experts as specialists “who lead, administer, manage, monitor, assess, accompany, and/or advise others on integration” in order to achieve the full potential of inter- and transdisciplinary research (Hoffmann et al. 2022).

This i2Insights contribution presents the results of a pilot workshop held in Aeschiried, a mountain village in Switzerland, in February 2023 to develop a theory of change focused on Germany and Switzerland to achieve the following:

By 2033, diverse research institutes/universities in Germany and Switzerland have established integration experts as recognized academic positions in their structures and created a durable environment, in which integration experts thrive in order to jointly address wicked problems with their disciplinary colleagues in a systemic and ‘co-productive’ way.

For some background on using theory of change in inter- and transdisciplinary research see the i2Inisghts contribution by Josefa Kny and colleagues.

We identified seven pathways to inform and support such desired long-term change, summarized and visualized in the figure below. We looked at short-, medium-, and long-term changes (the boxes in the figure). In brief, the pathways (with short- and long-term changes described) are:

  1. Enabling positive experience
    By 2025, disciplinary colleagues recognize the (intellectual) contributions of integration experts to inter- and transdisciplinarity and integrate integration experts in their teams.
    By 2032, there is a thriving environment where disciplinary colleagues and integration experts co-exist in a constructive way and complement each other to jointly address wicked problems.
  2. Establishing evaluation criteria
    By 2025, integration experts make their (intellectual) contributions to inter- and trans-disciplinarity visible within their institute/university and beyond.
    By 2032, selection committees assess integration experts based on evaluation and promotion criteria aligned to inter- and transdisciplinarity.
  3. Opening up positions/careers
    By 2025, directors of research institutes/presidents of universities know about integration experts and recognize their added value for inter- and transdisciplinarity.
    By 2032, directors of research institutes/presidents of universities establish a critical mass of permanent integration expert positions in their institutes/universities.
  4. Promoting paradigm shift
    By 2025, integration experts articulate their diverse roles, functions, and expertise along a typology of different integration expert profiles.
    By 2032, directors of research institutes/presidents of universities have to justify if they do not have established a critical mass of permanent integration expert positions in their institutes/universities.
  5. Providing financial resources
    By 2025, funders include budgets for integration in inter- and transdisciplinary research proposals (integration expert positions and interaction formats).
    By 2032, funders reserve one third of funding for inter- and transdisciplinary research to address wicked problems.
  6. Nurturing Communities of Practice
    By 2025, integration experts self-organize and establish Communities of Practice within their research institutes/universities to ensure peer-to-peer exchange and mutual learning.
    By 2032, single research institutes/universities create an environment for integration experts (and their disciplinary colleagues) to thrive and contribute to effectively address wicked problems.
  7. Enabling teaching/learning
    By 2025, higher education institutions offer cross-departmental lectures and seminars to train students, PhDs and postdocs on inter- and transdisciplinary integration.
    By 2032, higher education institutions have established integrative inter- and transdisciplinary study programs/majors by offering specialization and/or minors on inter- and transdisciplinary integration coupled with empirical cases.
Theory of Change to institutionalise Integration Experts and Expertise focused on Germany and Switzerland (source: the authors). IMAGE READABILITY: For desktop computers, this image can be opened to view as a full screen image with an extra zoom function – to do so: click on the image which will open in full screen view; then click on the (bottom right) ‘i’ icon; then click on the (bottom centre) text “View full size” (which opens the image in its own tab); then click on the image again for zoom (scroll bars may appear on smaller screens). To aid readability, not all interrelations are drawn. ABBREVIATIONS: The following abbreviations are used – IE: Integration Expert; ITD: Inter- and Transdisciplinarity; ITD Alliance: Global Alliance for Inter- and Transdisciplinarity; HEI: Higher Education Institutions; CoP: Community of Practice; ISOE: Institute for Social-Ecological Research; ZTG: Center for Technology and Society, Technical University, Berlin; ZALF: Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research; h_da: Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences; Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology; USYS TdLab: Transdisciplinarity Lab, Department Environmental System Sciences, ETH Zurich; SNSF: Swiss National Science Foundation; incl.: including.

Based on the seven pathways, we then identified specific interventions, ie., sets of deliberative activities to induce change in the academic system (the ovals in the figure). These were prioritized into high, medium, and low priority. We identified three interventions as critical to start working on:

  1. Developing and discussing theories of change to institutionalise Integration Experts and Expertise in different national or regional contexts: This entails defining a joint vision, identifying long-, medium-, and short-term changes, prioritizing context-specific interventions tailored to specific actor groups (eg., funders, directors of research institutes, presidents of universities, disciplinary colleagues, etc.), and continuously reflecting upon and learning from the induced change processes on national and regional levels but also in exchange across different academic systems.
  2. Establishing a typology of Integration Experts and Expertise: This involves systematizing the diversity of existing profiles, including cousin roles (eg., Third Space Professionals, Research Development Professionals, Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) Specialists, Interdisciplinary Executive Scientists, Boundary Spanners, Knowledge Brokers, and Inter- and Transdisciplinary Project or Program Administrators, Managers or Coordinators), identifying commonalities and differences between them, and exploring challenges and opportunities associated with diverse profiles and their implementation and institutionalisation in differently structured institutes and universities.
  3. Exchanging on teaching and learning formats for inter- and transdisciplinary integration: This comprises identifying suitable formats to further develop and strengthen expertise, including contributory expertise, interactional expertise, and referred expertise through exchange across different scientific communities (including the Science of Team Science, Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S), Science and Technology Studies communities).

What do you think? Do you identify as an integration expert? If so, do the interventions we suggest resonate with you? Would you prioritise other or different interventions?

Would you like to be involved? If so, join the Global Inter- and Transdisciplinary Alliance (ITD Alliance) Working Group on ‘Integration Experts and Expertise’.


Hoffmann, S., Deutsch, L., Klein, J. T. and O’Rourke, M. (2022). Integrate the integrators! A call for establishing academic careers for integration experts. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9, 147. (Online – open access) (DOI):

Author biographies

Open the combined image of all the authors (JPEG 167KB).

Top row (left to right): Sabine Hoffmann, Lisa Deutsch
Second row (left to right): Benjamin Hofmann. Hanna Salomon, Christian Pohl
Third row (left to right): Alexandra Lux, Emilia Nagy, Silke Kleihauer
Last row (left to right): Sebastian Rogga, Jana Zscheischler

Biography: Sabine Hoffmann PhD is group leader of inter- and transdisciplinary research at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Duebendorf, Switzerland. Her research focuses on integration and integrative leadership in large inter- and transdisciplinary research programs. She co-leads the ITD Alliance (Global Inter- and Transdisciplinary Alliance) Working Group on Integration Experts and Expertise.

Biography: Lisa Deutsch is currently conducting a PhD on integrative leadership and framework conditions for inter- and transdisciplinary integration at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Duebendorf, and ETH Zurich, both in Switzerland.

Biography: Benjamin Hofmann PhD is a postdoctoral researcher in environmental social sciences at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Duebendorf, Switzerland. He conducts interdisciplinary research on the use of science for sustainable policy and practice, currently with a focus on pesticide pollution.

Biography: Hanna Salomon studies environmental science at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. She is currently writing her master’s thesis on researchers’ roles and perceptions of integration in an inter- and transdisciplinary research project at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Duebendorf, Switzerland.

Biography: Christian Pohl PhD is co-director of the Transdisciplinarity Lab of the Department of Environmental Systems Science (USYS TdLab) at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. His research and teaching interest is the theory and the practice of transdisciplinary research as a means for achieving sustainable development. He co-leads the ITD Alliance (Global Inter- and Transdisciplinary Alliance) Working Group on Integration Experts and Expertise.

Biography: Alexandra Lux PhD is head of the unit “Knowledge processes and transformations” at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) and member of its Executive Committee, located in Frankfurt, Germany. She is interested in research on integration concepts and methods in transdisciplinary research processes.

Biography: Emilia Nagy researches on transdisciplinarity at the Center for Technology and Society (ZTG) at the Technische Universität Berlin in Germany. Her focus is on increasing the societal effects of transdisciplinary sustainability research.

Biography: Silke Kleihauer PhD is head of the Innovation and Transformation Platform for Sustainable Development (itp:ne) at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Her research focuses on the design of change processes in the context of modes of production and consumption, systems mobility and climate-friendly energy networks.

Biography: Sebastian Rogga MA is a project manager at the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Müncheberg, Germany. His interests are in transformative science, team science and science-society interfaces.

Biography: Jana Zscheischler PhD is assistant professor for Geography at the University of Vechta, Germany. She is especially interested in methods of transdisciplinary and transformative sustainability research.

4 thoughts on “Towards a theory of change to institutionalise integration experts and expertise”

  1. Thank you for your inspiring post, Sabine and Aeschiried Integrators!
    Yes this certainly resonates with me as a transdisciplinary knowledge broker and career development consultant in areas of technology ethics, working across universities, research institutes, industry and policy. I am very interested in career development/typology for Integrator expert roles. It makes me wonder about the potential benefits of emerging artificial intelligence (AI) that will hopefully be able to push Integrators to the forefront of organisations globally. With reports of AI negatively impacting more niche roles than general, it is interesting to see AI starting to break down the traditional distinction between generalists and specialists and highlights the need for more mixed specialist-generalist people and roles that possess both wide (transdisciplinary) knowledge/skills and mastery of one area.

    • Dear Faye Miller,
      Thank you very much for these really interesting thoughts, which perfectly complement and underline our argumentation. We see the point that AI could increasingly shift the focus to integrator expertise and thus be an interesting development.
      At the same time, integration expertise represents a specialization of its own with its very own competencies and capabilities, which has so far remained in the niche as far as consolidation is concerned. For Europe we can clearly state this. Our call is therefore directed to the community of integration scientists to highlight this special expertise of integration experts and to consider together which transformation paths/ways forward there are and to develop country-specific TOCs (Theories of Change) for this purpose in order to raise the awareness of decision-makers for the importance of these competencies and to increasingly consolidate and institutionalize integration expertise in science. In science, disciplinary career paths are still predominantly promoted, and integration expertise still remains niched. This should change in view of the great potential of integration expertise for science and society. Our blog post is therefore to be understood as a call to join forces, to open the discourse and to develop TOCs and measures adapted to the regionally different science structures in order to strengthen integration experts and their expertise, ultimately to anchor them in the respective science systems. With our template we wanted to make a start and at the same time provide concrete guidance. We would be very happy if we could support and accompany colleagues, e.g. from the Australian community 😉 in the development of such a TOC (adapted for the Australian science system).

      Please don‘t hesitate to contact us if there are ambitions!

  2. Dear Aeschiried Integrators,

    Many thanks for your blogpost!
    Your claim to acknowledge the work of integrators resonates with what we are hearing in the Network for Transdisciplinary Research. Some questions & thoughts regarding the prioritized interventions:

    Intervention 1: Do you have concrete ideas on where/how to gather people to develop these regional ToCs? Is the ITD Alliance Working Group the “hub” for this?

    Intervention 2: Besides the typology I would also be interested in showcasing best practices for the different target groups (how an integration expert profile was developed by a research team, endorsed by disciplinary colleagues, supported by funders, institutionalized by university leaders,…).

    Intervention 3: In our td community, we often hear the claim to understand teaching and research (not as separate work areas, but) as a joint field for lifelong learning at universities. To what extent does this resonate with your vision?


    • Dear Sibylle,

      Many thanks for your comment!

      Intervention 1: Within the two kick-off workshops of the ITD Alliance (Global Alliance for Inter- and Transdisciplinarity) Working Group on Integration Experts and Expertise in March 2023, we discussed the potential of developing ToC (theories of change) in different contexts. In these workshops and subsequent meetings, we identified a group of people interested in developing ToCs in the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. The ITD Alliance Working Group could be the ‘hub’ for generating such ToCs, however, in close collaboration with key ITD actors in the three contexts like, for example, the Network for Transdisciplinary Research in Switzerland.

      Intervention 2: It is the ambition of the Working Group to identify best practices and successful examples of diverse integration expert profiles and to engage in mutual learning across academic institutions and/or funding agencies on how to design, implement and institutionalize diverse profiles in different academic contexts. I personally think there is much to gain from discussing such practices and examples with different target groups and – as pointed out in our ‘Integrate the integrator!’ paper – from studying (academic) careers of integration experts in more detail. Such study would reveal different pathways to becoming an integration expert and offer valuable insights into challenges and opportunities integration experts face in the current academic system. Moreover, it would allow for identifying successful examples of integration experts attaining permanent positions and for disclosing different ways of supporting them in building their academic careers . These examples would also provide valuable lessons learned for academic institutions and funding agencies willing to establish corresponding academic positions.

      Intervention 3: Yes, definitely! Lifelong learning and collaborative dialog with academic institutions and funding agencies to discuss lessons learned and jointly identify how to institutionalize integration experts and expertise in the academic system is certainly part of our vision.

      Best wishes,


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