A framework for building transdisciplinary expertise

By ANU Transdisciplinarity Working Group

Author biographies

What expertise should everyone have in order to effectively play their role in tackling complex societal and environmental problems? Is there a framework that can help everyone develop rudimentary skills and provide a pathway to enhancing them as and when necessary?

We were charged with addressing these questions, not for everyone, but for all undergraduates at our university, The Australian National University (ANU). In particular, we were asked to ensure that all ANU graduates would be able to work with others to understand and creatively address amorphous and complex problems. More formally, this was described as proposing how undergraduates could develop the “Capability to Employ Discipline-based Knowledge in Transdisciplinary Problem Solving.”

What we came up with had to work for all students, ranging from those aiming to be government officials tackling climate change, to those seeking to be industrial chemists or art historians. Elements of the expertise had to be able to be taught in small classes by academics across the university. The aim was to support flexible, bottom up approaches within the range of different degree structures and constraints.

As a consequence, we developed the ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving, shown in the figure below.

The ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving (Bammer et al., 2023).

We defined six characteristics of transdisciplinary problem solving, which are equivalent in importance, even though they differ markedly in breadth and content. They are:

  • Change-oriented
    Transdisciplinary problem solving is used to improve understanding for improved action. This change-oriented approach requires effective decision-making, which accommodates diverse perspectives and is based on a shared vision and research evidence. It also takes into account unknowns that might lead to adverse unintended consequences and nasty surprises. In addition, change orientation requires an appreciation of the complexity of change processes, such as the different roles for social movements, choice architecture and individual change.
  • Systemic
    Transdisciplinary problem solving is unnecessary for simple cause-and-effect-type problems, but is instead required for problems that are systemic, including where components are interdependent and interact, where feedback and leverage points come into play, where boundary-setting is crucial and where switching between views of wholes and parts is essential for understanding and action. Such systems may be, but are not necessarily, complex adaptive systems, which manifest additional properties, such as emergence.
  • Context-based
    The way problems manifest and options for addressing problems depend on historical, political, cultural and other big-picture circumstances.
  • Pluralistic
    Effectively understanding and addressing systemic and context-based problems requires recognition that there are multiple ways of seeing the world and that for any problem there will be different ways of understanding and responding to it.
  • Interactive
    Key to transdisciplinary problem solving is finding ways to engage a diverse array of expertise and perspectives. This includes, but is not restricted to, teamwork and stakeholder engagement. The ability to communicate effectively is critical.
  • Integrative
    Developing a shared approach to defining and acting on the problem requires synthesis of the diverse perspectives, while also recognising that there will generally be outliers that cannot be comfortably integrated.

Rather than developing an ideal form of transdisciplinary problem solving, we set out to provide a clear, straight-forward approach that would work across the university and be accessible to all students, allowing them to tailor coursework in transdisciplinary problem solving according to their disciplinary choices, personal interests and career aspirations.

The aim is not to produce transdisciplinary problem-solving experts, but rather to produce graduates who know enough about what is required for transdisciplinary problem solving to be able to effectively contribute their disciplinary and other expertise to it, and who can continue to build their ability to contribute over their careers. This requires a combination of content knowledge and practical experience in each characteristic, and there is a wide range of possible contexts and pedagogies for delivering these.

Of course, we recognised that some students will want to become experts who can lead transdisciplinary problem-solving efforts in their post-graduation work, and the framework caters for them as well by providing a foundation they can build on.

We wanted to provide similar flexibility to academics teaching courses, recognising that many already provide relevant educational experiences. The aim is for academics to be able to teach (or continue to teach) the framework characteristics they are best at and most interested in, in the context relevant to them, be it medicine, Pacific cultures or sustainability science. While courses need to locate themselves in the transdisciplinary problem-solving framework, they don’t need to teach all characteristics. Indeed, within any standard ANU course (with 130 hours of expected student workload) it is not feasible to cover all elements of transdisciplinary problem solving in any reasonable depth.

Again we aimed to make it possible for those educators who want to cover all facets of transdisciplinary problem solving in detail to do so, usually across courses.

Figuring out how to implement the framework at the ANU is still on-going, with the university-wide program scheduled to begin in 2025.

What do you think? Could the framework add value to your transdisciplinary education programs? Are there characteristics that you would add or remove? Do you cover the same characteristics with a different framing?

To find out more:

Bammer, G., Browne, C. A., Ballard, C., Lloyd, N., Kevan, A., Neales, N., Nurmikko-Fuller, T., Perera, S., Singhal, I. and van Kerkhoff, L. (2023). Setting parameters for developing undergraduate expertise in transdisciplinary problem solving at a university-wide scale: A case study. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 10: 208. (Online – open access) (DOI):  https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-023-01709-8
This also provides the sources for the framework.

Author biographies

Open the combined image of all the authors (JPEG 256KB).

Top row (left to right): Gabriele Bammer, Chris A. Browne, Chris Ballard
Second row (left to right): Natalie Lloyd, Alison Kevan, Nicholas Neales, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller
Last row (left to right): Sean Perera, Isha Singhal, Lorrae van Kerkhoff

Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is Professor of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University in Canberra. i2S provides theory and methods for tackling complex societal and environmental problems, especially for synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns, and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. She chaired the working group undertaking the deliberations described above.

Biography: Chris A Browne PhD is senior lecturer (Curriculum Transformation) in the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at The Australian National University in Canberra. He is playing a core role in the implementation of the curriculum reform described above. His interest in transdisciplinary learning includes developing literacy of complex systems and systems thinking concepts with students from broad disciplinary backgrounds.

Biography: Chris Ballard PhD is associate professor, Pacific History in the School of Culture, History and Language at The Australian National University in Canberra. He is a chief investigator in the Evolution of Cultural Diversity Initiative, which promotes transdisciplinary research amongst archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, historians, geneticists, ecologists and philosophers working on the deep history of Melanesia.

Biography: Natalie Lloyd PhD is professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. During the deliberations described above, she was associate professor and Associate Dean, Education, in the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science at The Australian National University in Canberra. Her interest in transdisciplinarity stems from designing and facilitating transdisciplinary curricular activities and award courses focussed on equipping learners as complex problem seekers and solvers.

Biography: Alison Kevan PhD is senior project manager (education) in the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), at The Australian National University in Canberra. She is playing a core role in the implementation of the curriculum reform described above. Her interest in transdisciplinarity stems from her background working across psychology (cognitive and development), neuroimaging, education and evaluation disciplines – in academic, government, private enterprise and not-for-profit environments.

Biography: Nicholas Neales is the manager of business and commercial operation of a private consulting and project management organisation headquartered in Canberra, Australia. During the deliberations described above, he was a final year International Security Studies student in the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University in Canberra. In his current role, he supports a range of Australian Commonwealth government agencies to help develop their strategic direction, with a particular focus on the design and implementation of transdisciplinary skills in early career professionals.

Biography: Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller PhD is senior research fellow, Centre for Social Research & Methods, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences at The Australian National University in Canberra. She sees transdisciplinary research as the future of academia; her courses encourage students to work in diverse groups to tackle complex challenges from different perspectives.

Biography: Sean Perera PhD is the academic sub-dean of Graduate Studies Select, the multi-disciplinary postgraduate pathway at The Australian National University, Canberra, where he researches and teaches about communication across cultural and knowledge barriers. He investigated ANU staff and student perspectives about transdisciplinary curriculum content for the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), which informed the deliberations described above.

Biography: Isha Singhal was a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Economics double degree student at The Australian National University in Canberra during the deliberations described above and was an educational representative of the ANU Student’s Association. She now holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and is currently completing a Bachelor’s degree in Science in chemistry and science communication. She is interested in the applications of transdisciplinary learning and how that can make for a more purposeful education.

Biography: Lorrae van Kerkhoff PhD is professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University in Canberra. She convenes the Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability degree program and is Director of the ANU Institute for Water Futures. Her research focuses on knowledge governance and its relationship to social-ecological change.

29 thoughts on “A framework for building transdisciplinary expertise”

  1. Thank you for your helpful reflections on curricula development and teaching experiences. I am looking for a transdisciplinarity textbook for master students in environmental sciences and sustainability studies. Any suggestions?

    • Here’s a list of books about transdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity that a group of us have pulled together – sorry about the inconsistent formats. Other suggestions by readers welcome!

      Foundations of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research by Bianca Vienni-Baptista (Editor); Isabel Fletcher (Editor); Catherine Lyall (Editor)

      Handbook of Transdisciplinarity: Global Perspectives by Roderick J. Lawrence (Editor)

      Methods for transdisciplinary research : a primer for practice by Matthias Bergmann; Thomas Jahn; Tobias Knobloch; Wolfgang Krohn; Christian Pohl; Engelbert Schramm; Ronald C. Faust (Translator)

      The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative : The Power of Cross-Disciplinary Practice. by Steven Hecht Orzack (Editor); Michael O’Rourke (Editor); Graham Hubbs (Editor)

      The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity by Robert Frodeman (Editor); Julie Thompson Klein (Editor); Roberto Carlos Dos Santos Pacheco (Editor)

      Fam D & O’Rourke M, eds. (2022) Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Failures. Lessons Learned from Cautionary Tales Routledge.

      Fam D, Palmer J, Riedy C & Mitchell C, eds. (2017) Transdisciplinary research and practice for sustainability outcomes Routledge, London, United Kingdom.

      Fam D, Neuhauser L & Gibbs P, eds. (2018) Transdisciplinary theory, practice and education: The art of collaborative research and collective learning. Springer.

      Gibbons M, Limoges C, Nowotny H, Schwartzman S, Scott P & Trow M (1994) The new production of knowledge. The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. Sage, London; Thousand Oaks, California; New Delhi.

      Hirsch Hadorn G, Hoffmann-Riem H, Biber-Klemm S, Grossenbacher-Mansuy W, Joye D, Pohl C, Wiesmann U & Zemp E, eds. (2008) Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research. Springer.

      Klein JT (1990) Interdisciplinarity: History, theory and practice. Wayne State University Press, Detroit.

      Klein JT (2010) Creating interdisciplinary campus cultures. Jossey Bass and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, San Francisco.

      Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J. and Meagher, L. (2011). Interdisciplinary Research Journeys: Practical Strategies for Capturing Creativity. Bloomsbury Academic , London, UK. The book is on open access at Bloomsbury: https://www.bloomsburycollections.com/book/interdisciplinary-research-journeys-practical-strategies-for-capturing-creativity/ch1-signposts-for-interdisciplinary-travellers

      National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering & Institute of Medicine (2005) Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. National Academies Press, Washington DC.

      National Research Council (2014) Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/18722

      Nicolescu B (2002) Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity. State University of New York.

      Pohl C & Hirsch Hadorn G (2007) Principles for Designing Transdisciplinary Research. Proposed by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. oekom, Munich, Germany.

      Vienni-Baptista B & Klein JT, eds. (2022) Institutionalizing Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity. Collaboration across Cultures and Communities. Routledge.

      Integrated mission-directed research experiences from environmental and natural resource management by Wendy Proctor (Editor); Steve Hatfield Dodds (Editor); Lorrae Van Kerkhoff (Editor)

      Interdisciplinary Research by Allen F. Repko; Rick Szostak

      An Introduction to Interdisciplinary Research by Machiel Keestra; Anne Uilhoorn; Jelle Zandveld; Instituut voor Interdisciplinaire Studies

      Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies by Allen F. Repko; Rick Szostak; Michele Phillips Buchberger

  2. Thanks to the authors for this helpful framework, and to the interesting discussion in the comments.

    We are currently designing a workshop at ETH Zürich aimed at PhD/PostDoc students who are teaching undergrad/graduate students. These “lecturers” will come from the different disciplines ETH is offering, and will most likely have no or limited experience with transdisciplinarity. The goals of the workshop are to a) make them familiar with the concepts of transdisciplinary and transformative science / teaching, and b) to start a reflection process on how they could modify their existing courses such that they integrate some first, small TD elements.

    We might use the framework proposed in this blog post to showcase the characteristics of TD work – which (as Bianca has mentioned) could be translated into competences which TD teaching should foster. However, in the specific setting of the workshop (TD-unexperienced lecturers who teach already existing courses), I am afraid that the lecturers might get overwhelmed by the idea of having to address all of these characteristics.

    Hence, in the team we agreed to downscale the goal of the workshop and to ask the lecturers not to re-design their entire teaching (which no one would have the capacity for), but to implement small elements (e.g., visiting a real-world laboratory, asking students to reflect on who would be relevant stakeholders for a certain problem set etc.) and see whether such small modifications can already have some effect.

    Hence, I was curious if anyone had experience with such a setting: what are other exemplary small modifications which we could propose to the lecturers? Does such an approach work or does it stay “too small”?

    In essence, I guess my question is about “designing a course specifically to be TD” (for which I directly see the relevance of the proposed framework) vs. “TD-ing / mainstreaming TD into existing curricula” (for which it might seem a bit overwhelming, despite for sure being useful to structure the discussion). So any hints to prior blog posts or other literature is much appreciated!

    • It’s great to hear about this development at ETH Zürich. In fact what we are doing at ANU is not that dissimilar- it is clearer in the paper than this i2Insights contribution. We are working with academic educators who cover some elements of transdisciplinarity, but their course are not fully transdisciplinary. As you say, for those who are not across all of transdisciplinarity, the challenge is to start somewhere where they are comfortable and to build on that. The framework aims to do two things – identify multiple potential starting points and provide an overview of what transdisciplinarity requires. As you say, the danger in providing an overview is that it can be overwhelming. But the danger in not providing one is that transdisciplinarity can seem simple and trivial. I don’t think any of us have the answers yet, but it would be great to continue sharing ideas and experiences.

      All i2Insights contributions about education (often, but not only transdisciplinary) can be found at: https://i2insights.org/category/main-topics/education/

    • Hi, Jan.

      Your observation/curiosity around implementation is exactly the challenge that we’re working through at the moment within the Institution. We want to see great examples of “specifically TD”, but the real-world constraints across external requirements (such as professional accreditation), academic culture expectations, workload and staffing challenges (and also just the negative associations and challenges of central meddling with discipline curriculum) are all different aspects we’re trying to accommodate. Each student is expected to complete 2 of these courses, but the courses may be existing disciplinary courses tweaked to meet the framework, co-badged courses already taught between two disciplines/areas or new courses yet to be delivered.

      Perhaps this may be the beginnings of the next paper/blog post, but we’ve just worked through a decision-process for ensuring a minimum baseline of “Transdisciplinary Problem-Solving” in a course that is marked as meeting the intent in the curriculum.

      The decision-process is based on three simple questions:

      1. Skills: What transdisciplinary problem-solving skills are intentionally being developed through this course? (ie to ensure incorporation of the six elements of this framework, tailored as appropriate, translated into skills/learning outcomes/verbs)
      2. Collaboration: Who is involved in the transdisciplinary collaboration? (ie to ensure that there is sufficient benefit in a collaboration across disciplinary difference, whether with peers or other experts)
      3. Context: How is the transdisciplinary problem-solving experience situated with respect to broader contexts? (ie to ensure that there is some ‘bigger picture’ or ‘big ideas’ context around the course)

      And for each of these questions, we have three levels of achievement (baseline/midpoint/exemplary) to help as a common guide or situate the TD learning experience. We’re hoping that this gives a sufficiently generous way for academics to tweak a course to meet the Graduate Attribute, but also opens up some more thought about incorporating the skills, collaboration and context.

      The biggest challenge, as Gabriele mentions, is getting academics to build their own capacity around these transdisciplinary skills (within a our institutional/college/school structures that by design makes it very difficult to situate teaching and often research outside of disciplinary/area norms).

      So far, it seems like these questions have given a lot of clarity around implementation, but we are 4-6 weeks away from seeing any curriculum objects come through.

      Happy to discuss further, and compare notes!


      • Thanks, Gabriele and Chris, for your replies. I will have a look at the full paper.

        The three levels you sketch (skills, collaboration, context) seem very helpful to structure and start a discussion about potential “tweaks” to existing courses. I’ll suggest them to our team.

        Happy to read about your further experiences in future blog posts / papers! And likewise happy to share whatever observations we make as the process unfolds.


  3. Hi, Transdisciplinary problem solving is likely to lead individuals and teams to consider differences in perspectives, goals and preferences. Making decisions in this kind of settings is not straightforward and collecting information and dealing with uncertainty is not enough. One has to have ways to deal with conflicting criteria and negotiations too. How do you see these questions to be reflected in your framework? We have reflected these questions in our earlier blog on competences in participatory modelling see: https://i2insights.org/2023/04/18/participatory-modeling-competencies/

    • Indeed, Raimo, there are many complexities in dealing with societal and environmental problems. The aim is to provide undergraduates with basic skills that they can then continue to build on, as they gain exposure to and experience with real-world problems. Conflicting criteria would most likely come up under ‘systemic’ and negotiation under ‘interactive.’ There are, of course, overlaps among the six criteria for transdisciplinary problem solving, which should also help ensure that the various complexities are covered.

  4. Dear Gabriele and colleagues, thank you for a wonderful informative post!

    You have formed a framework of six characteristics of transdisciplinary problem solving that, at first glance, do not need much proof due to their self-evident nature, visibility and clarity. However, the title and content of the six characteristics allows adding a seventh characteristic – a systems transdisciplinary risk analysis of the proposed interdisciplinary solutions to problems.

    Let me philosophize a little about the seventh characteristic.

    The ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving can be viewed in two main contexts: in an anthropocentric context and in an academic context.
    The anthropocentric context aims to equip the student with the ability to use disciplinary knowledge in solving interdisciplinary problems, and so that ANU graduates can understand and creatively solve amorphous and complex problems. In this case, we are talking about initiatives in the field of interdisciplinary interactions. As a result of these initiatives, there is a strengthening of disciplinary pictures of the world, concepts and methodologies, and an accumulation of practical experience in interdisciplinary problem solving. It is important to note that students and graduates of the university do not acquire a new picture of the world and a methodology that would be adequate to the new picture of the world.

    The academic context aims to fix the disciplinary picture of the world in the student’s mind and teach the student practical skills to use, first of all, the disciplinary problem-solving methodology. Thanks to the academic context, in the academic context, scientific rigor and validity are formed and maintained, which every disciplinary specialist should strive for in interdisciplinary interaction. In this case, in order to maintain scientific rigor and validity, the academic context requires that interdisciplinary interaction at its highest level be a specialized scientific discipline. Such a discipline should have all the attributes: philosophical justification, axiomatics, concept and methodology that form the appropriate disciplinary picture of the world.

    Based on the results of philosophizing, I propose to clarify the wording of the questions facing the ANU Transdisciplinarity Working Group. I propose to divide social and environmental problems into three groups: low-threshold (everyday) problems, medium-threshold (situational) problems and high-threshold (wicked) problems. This results in two questions:
    – What kind of experience should each ANU graduate have in order to effectively play their role in solving complex low-threshold (everyday) and medium-threshold (situational) social and environmental problems?
    – What experience should each ANU graduate have in order to effectively play their role in solving complex, multi-factorial (wicked) social and environmental problems?

    An example of an answer to the first question is The ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving.

    An example of the answer to the second question is the international project “Formation of a systems transdisciplinary worldview in the higher education system (2023-2026)” (http://www.td-science.ru/images/kart/passport_of_the_education_project_2026_eng.pdf).
    I invite all colleagues to take part in this project. The project pursues the following objectives:
    • to revive in the higher education environment the understanding of the responsibility of universities for achieving results of development and constant self-renewal of society;
    • to form the need of universities for new disciplinary forms of student education based on the combination of systems thinking and transdisciplinarity;
    • to develop an international educational standard of higher education, namely, master’s degree in the major of systems transdisciplinary generalist;
    • to adapt the discipline “Systems Transdisciplinarity” to its use in the disciplinary structure of the university (creating a textbook and the necessary documents which would allow organizing training of students in specialized departments of systems transdisciplinarity).
    Thank you.

  5. Dear Gabriele and colleagues,

    Thank you very much for thinking about how to teach transdisciplinary problem solving across the university and for advancing this important discussion. This effort is much needed, also because most impact we will have at the end of the day will probably be through teaching and creating learning environments. The six characteristics make a lot of sense to me. I do not think there is one missing or dispensable.

    One comment on “interactive” and on such teaching in general: In our Bachelor course “Tackling environmental problems” the ca. 120 students usually contact around 150 stakeholders over the year. This is great in terms of “context-based”, “pluralistic” and “change-oriented”. However, we change the course’s topic, the main partners, and the case area every year. The stakeholders of the case area and in particular our main partners are usually enthusiastic, but also exhausted after a year of engaging with students. The changing topic and networks to be build is only one aspect that makes such teaching more expensive than “ex cathedra classes”. Other aspects are the intensive coaching of student groups, e.g. to help them find their way through unknowns and unforeseeable (negative) stakeholder reactions. In general, the costs of transdisciplinary problem solving class are negligible compared to the money that goes into research in universities. However, I am afraid that promoting transdisciplinary problem solving class also means to be ready for the discussion why universities should allocate more resources to education.

    • Many thanks, Christian, for these helpful reflections.

      I was particularly interested to read that you change the case each year to avoid exhausting the stakeholders. I can see that this would be very demanding on the academic staff in building a new set of relationships each year. Indeed there are a lot of considerations for universities when it comes to stakeholders, including that they feel properly heard and that their time is well spent. And on a university-wide basis that they are not approached by different parts of the university, who do not know what each other is doing.

      It is sobering to read that under-resourcing of education is a widespread experience.

    • Hi Christian, your experience sounds very similar to my own with regard to the ANU course ‘Complex Environmental Problems in Action’. We engage with our stakeholders in bite-sized chunks, of 2-6 week case studies. This helps reduce the burden on the stakeholders and we structure the process as far as possible to limit the time commitments expected of them. It does, as you say, place extra demands on the teaching staff and organisational burden. We manage this through a team teaching approach where different team members take on different leadership and coordination roles. This is feasible as it is an unusual course with maximum of around 100 students — your point that if we were to try to develop many courses of this kind or even upscale this single course to a larger cohort of students we would be facing resourcing challenges is valid. Continuing to develop good partnership models and approaches with non-academic partners towards effective and efficient teaching and learning practices is an ongoing part of the project!

  6. Dear Authors,

    Really appreciate the work that went into developing this helpful framework! I find it useful, in particular, that these are six characteristics which are both well-defined and broad enough to be customized across a variety of curriculum and university settings. At TU Delft, there are two developments that are occurring that may be useful to discuss. First, we are writing a book which tries to explain our specific approach to complex problem solving in socio-technical settings by integrating system thinking tools, policy analysis and design thinking. Indeed, this may be a specific implementation of the characteristics you have clearly laid out here. Secondly, we are setting up a “problem framing lab” which will try to set up an ongoing teaching environment in which the local community will bring their questions and challenges to students. I think your framework will be a great basis for us to think about what are the principles around which we will continue building this lab. If you think it may be helpful to discuss some of these developments together, I would love to do so!

    Best and thanks again,

    • Great to hear about these developments – thanks BinBin. These sound like great initiatives and it would be great to discuss them! The problem framing labs sound like a modern incarnation of the Dutch “science shops” – is there a link?

      • That’s a great point, it’s very much in line with the Science Shop of the University of Groningen, for example. We do not yet made contact with them, but because of this prompt I think it would be a good idea to do so. I think our initial focus will be to also develop problem framing methodologies specifically for both lecturers (as a part of a Teaching Academy here at TUD – Technical University Delft) and students so that they can take and adapt skills they learn within the lab to other projects throughout the university.

    • Hi BinBin, I just read about your book which tries to explain your specific approach to complex problem solving in socio-technical settings. What is the target group of your book? Do you think it might be useful as textbook in a td-class for environmental science students (master level)? And of course, I want to know when you will publish it. Best regards from Vienna!

  7. Since the time of the Working Group that put this together, I have had the ‘Transdisciplinary Problem Solving’ graphic close to hand and it has been a great tool to help articulate our broad conceptualisation to a broader audience within the university.

    On the implementation side… A recurring observation from conversations with academic staff is that these ‘skills’ or ‘ways of being’ are often being downplayed as the ‘transferable’ skills that are ‘already being taught’. Yes, these are very transferable skills, but it is rare to actually see examples of good, structured learning design that develops proficiency in these skills over a degree – space that is dominated by discipline content at the expense of teaching these well.

    The big challenge I see is encouraging a transdisciplinary context within the university to develop these skills intentionally over their brief time with us, alongside the disciplinary knowledge, to set students up for a productive lifetime of further informal and formal learning.

    Any further insights on the implementation gratefully received!

  8. Dear authors,
    Thank you very much for this interesting and useful framework. The “characteristics” you elaborated on resemble the discussion we are currently having on “competencies for transdisciplinary research” at my University. Have you considered such characteristics as “competences” that students have the opportunity to foster during their studies?
    Together with Sabine Hoffmann (Eawag), we have designed a course to help students achieve competences related to integration in research, practice and policy (at the Master in Environmental Sciences, ETH Zürich).
    As you said in your post, it is quite hard to work on many of those in the same course – so the idea of having them as cross-cutting aspects within different courses, is indeed very relevant!
    Thank you!

    • Many thanks, Bianca. Indeed we see the ‘characteristics’ as easily translatable into ‘competencies’ or ‘skills’. It would be great to hear more about your course, the competencies you aim for and how you go about teaching them.

    • Hi, Bianca.

      Our institution is reluctant to go down the path of ‘competencies’, as this framing tends to be used by our Vocational Education and Training sector (not the Tertiary, University sector) But you’re absolutely right, and as Gabriele notes – one could definitely extract translatable competencies and levels of attainment of these competencies from the framework.

      Somewhat counter to the idea above, there is a parallel project to try and articulate a common framework for ’employability’ skills across the university. There’s a perception that students don’t understand how to translate their formal education into a workplace-ready framing. We’re hoping to be able to translate our framework into an employability lens for their purposes.

      The conversations for us at the Postgraduate level haven’t really started yet, but will hopefully translate across to those programs too.

      Thanks for your message!

      • Thank you very much, Gabriele and Chris. Our course is titled “Integration in science, policy and practice: inter- and transdisciplinary concepts, methods and tools”. It is embedded in the Master for Environmental Sciences (at ETH Zurich). The main learning goal is for students to assess the challenges and opportunities in designing, planning and implementing an integration process and generating an integrated output. In this context, we have reflected with my co-lecturer, Sabine Hoffmann, of how to adapt the framework of competencies given by the University to our course. One strategy was to discuss with students on the competencies (personal, social, method-driven) that better fit the different roles researchers and stakeholders might have in an integration process. We do not use the complete framework, which is not the goal, but we open a reflective space with students to discuss what each of the competencies imply and why in integration processes.

        From your paper, I very much like the idea of re-thinking the dimension “pluralistic” as a competence as well. In my experience in different universities, this is an aspect that students find it difficult to work on, though we try to train them in a more “interdisciplinary” context.

        Happy to learn more once the process starts at the Postgraduate level, Chris!

  9. Very useful model and excellent article in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 10: 208. The six elements of the model closely resemble one the Systemic Development Associates has developed for Middle Manager who interact with business colleagues from multiple disciplines. I look forward to reading about the implementation program. This has been the most challenging aspect of our program as the ways of working are almost as distinct as ways of thinking.

    • Many thanks, Bruce. Is this the model of the Systemic Development Associates you refer to:
      “We design and implement programs to support the creation of learning organisations that are better equipped to understand complexity, and are strategically prepared for the future. We coach executives to achieve these outcomes.
      To this end, we advocate skills and knowledge development associated with
      Strategic Leadership
      Scenario Planning
      Critical and Systems Thinking
      Experiential Learning
      Organisational Change Development
      Navigating Uncertainty”
      If so, there are interesting parallels and differences.

      And, indeed, seeing how the implementation plays out will be interesting. If you have lessons to share, we would be most interested to hear them.

      • That was the basis of the approach I referred to but it has been significantly developed to integrate with industry and business needs for Middle Management. The core of our work is the transdisciplinary characteristic of complexity, experiential knowledge and systems thinking (focus, resource, process). One lesson that we are continually learning is how to effectively ‘language’ the program so particular disciplines are able to find meaning and motivation from the transdisiciplinary exchanges. More than happy to share anything we have learned that would be useful to your program. Bruce


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