Co-producing knowledge: Phases, issues and the td-net toolbox

By Sibylle Studer and Theres Paulsen

1. Sibylle Studer (biography)
2. Theres Paulsen (biography)

What are the steps involved in co-producing knowledge in transdisciplinary research? What tools are available to help knowledge co-production and for what purpose should they be used?

Based on our experiences with the td-net (Network for Transdisciplinary Research) toolbox, we discuss how knowledge co-production can be organized along an ideal type of a transdisciplinary research process.

Phases and key issues of co-production

In developing the td-net toolbox, we used the following four phases of knowledge co-production, which require an iterative, rather than linear, approach:

  1. Jointly envisaging a transdisciplinary project, especially:
    • Developing a rough project idea
    • Clarifying who to involve
    • Developing a rough procedure for co-producing knowledge.
  2. Jointly framing goals, problems and research, especially:
    • Identifying relevant understandings of the problem situation
    • Identifying the societal knowledge demand
    • Agreeing on problem framing and the normative conception of a project
    • Defining achievable project goals
    • Developing sub-topics and a concept for integration.
  3. Jointly conducting research, especially:
    • Jointly generating knowledge
    • Integrating knowledge
    • Jointly assessing quality with respect to scientific rigour, social robustness and practical relevance.
  4. Jointly exploring ways to impact in science and society, especially:
    • Jointly reconsidering pathways to impact
    • Jointly developing and testing ideas, measures and solutions
    • Jointly evaluating impact.

In addition, we identified six sets of key issues in knowledge co-production:

  1. Identifying actors, roles and expectations, especially:
    • Identifying actors and clarifying who to involve
    • Specifying roles, tasks and responsibilities
    • Clarifying expectations.
  2. Embracing differences, tensions and conflicts in a transdisciplinary group, especially:
    • Handling different perceptions of and opinions towards the issue
    • Dealing with power issues
    • Dealing with tensions in the transdisciplinary group
    • Building ownership and trust.
  3. Striving for societal relevance, especially:
    • Reviewing understandings of societal problem situations
    • Questioning scientific framings.
  4. Navigating through normative dimensions, especially:
    • Raising awareness of normative dimensions.
  5. Integrating different fields of expertise, especially in relation to:
    • Knowledge and perspectives on the issue
    • Different languages, concepts and narratives
    • Sub-topics and developing a concept for integration
    • Different quality standards.
  6. Reviewing process and impacts, especially:
    • Assessing a project’s impact and related assumptions and expectations
    • Reflecting on process and the research questions.

Tools for knowledge co-production and the td-net toolbox

The td-net toolbox contains 20 tools useful for different aspects of knowledge co-production. Some tools are methods, others provide a heuristic – eg., a typology, a visualization, a set of questions – to structure the exchange of perspectives when a heterogeneous group of experts from science and practice meet. The tools are summarized in the table below.


The toolbox provides suggestions for which tools to use in different phases of knowledge co-production, as well as for specific issues, as illustrated in the screenprint below.

Screenprint of tools that are useful for dealing with power issues in knowledge co-production (Source: td-net toolbox, August 2023;

Final remarks

The td-net toolbox was first published online in 2014. The main criterion for the selection of the tools for the td-net toolbox was:

  • the method or tool helps to bridge different thought styles.

Other guiding considerations were:

  • uses low-tech equipment;
  • mainly uses everyday language;
  • aims at developing a shared understanding or at identifying consensus and dissent;
  • facilitates exchange between thought-styles and allows joint production of knowledge and research outcomes.

Our current focus is on documenting experience in using the methods in the td-net toolbox, showing how the tools have been adapted in specific research fields and contexts. td-net invites transdisciplinary researchers, teachers and practitioners to share their experiences with (combinations of) transdisciplinary tools, lessons learned and ideas for further method development. We are also creating curated links to additional methods in other toolkits.

What are your experiences with knowledge co-production? What tools have you found particularly useful? How and in which ways is the systematization along the phases and key issues useful and supportive?


Financial support for the development of the td-net toolbox was provided by the Foundation Mercator Switzerland until 2022. Christian Pohl and Gabriela Wülser significantly contributed to the development of the search structure, and the international editorial board – Antonietta Di Giulio, Kerstin Hemström, Martina Schäfer, Susan Thieme, and Jan C. Schmidt (former member) – provided valuable discussions and continuous support.

To find out more:

Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences Methods and tools for co-producing knowledge (td-net toolbox). (Online): (note the landing page is in German, with links available to French, Italian and English versions).

The following tools are also described in i2Insights contributions:
Delphi technique 
Emancipatory boundary critique
Give-and-take matrix
Outcome spaces framework
Theory of change
Three types of knowledge tool
Toolbox dialogue approach: see and

Biography: Sibylle Studer PhD was head of Project Methods at the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences in Bern, Switzerland. She was responsible for the td-net toolbox and was co-initiator of the Global Alliance for Inter- and Transdisciplinarity ( Working Group on Toolkits and Methods. She is interested in collaborative modes of research and multi-stakeholder processes.

Biography: Theres Paulsen MSc is head of the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences ( and a member of the leadership board of the Global Alliance for Inter- and Transdisciplinarity (ITD-Alliance). She is located in Bern, Switzerland. She has expertise in knowledge exchange and transfer.

11 thoughts on “Co-producing knowledge: Phases, issues and the td-net toolbox”

  1. What a rich article. Thank you for creating and sharing. I suggest you consider adding foresight to your tools list. Foresight, especially anticipatory foresight, is best served as an interdisciplinary effort, from identifying and analyzing trends to creating forecasts. Thanks so much. Jim

  2. Dear Sibylle and Theres,

    thank you very much for an interesting post. In my research, I have also been focusing on similar questions. The context of my studies was transitioning to sustainable mobility, so this is where the tools I have analysed and developed got tested. However, the findings could be relevant to other contexts too.

    Here are some of my findings:
    “Among participatory research approaches, transdisciplinary research and action research were explored. As these research modes have become prominent, it is important to know more about them. It was found that transdisciplinary research could be particularly useful for advisory reflective contexts, whereas action research could be particularly useful for contexts where action is a priority.
    The dissertation presents further forms of methodological support that can help structure participatory multistakeholder dialogue-based processes:
    – a framework for analysing the complexity of co-production settings in relation to epistemic communities, linguistic diversities, and culture;
    – a rapid scenario planning method to support regional visioning for sustainability transformation; and
    – the MUSTS tool that connects sustainability goals at multiple levels with stakeholders who have the power and legitimacy to act upon them.
    To conclude, the methodological process-supporting tools that were investigated and those developed in this research offer a form of “scaffolding” that aids facilitators in organising more efficient and effective participatory processes. These scaffolding tools are rooted in transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge research and offer promising elements for a toolbox for strategic planning for transitioning to sustainable mobility.”

    The whole dissertation can be found here:

    (thank you Sibylle for attending my PhD defence and for your kind feedback!)

    I would like to continue working on these questions, so it could be nice to collaborate in the future.


    Editor: Some of the work referred to can be found in: A framework for identifying diversity in epistemic communities, linguistic variety and culture by Varvara Nikulina, Johan Larson Lindal, Henrikke Baumann, David Simon, and Henrik Ny

    • Thanks for sharing, Varvara!

      The results you listed are indeed worth considering! I hope to find some time to delve into your dissertation in the future. In any case, you should participate in our Tour d’Horizon of Literature ( next year and contribute valuable literature on the topics you’ve raised.

      We look forward to future collaborations, and perhaps we’ll have the chance to meet at the ITD conference in Utrecht ( next year at the latest to further develop our ideas. Keep an eye out for the Call for Papers; it should be out soon!

      best, Theres

  3. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Could you share more from your experience on how much ‘joint’edness is needed for a coproduction experience?

    No doubt it depends on context and what each stakeholder wants but there’s a point somewhere on the spectrum where it is less joint and more about advising, informing or consulting stakeholders rather than being in it together, equally every step of the way (which I’d imagine is quite an extreme point at the other end of the spectrum that few people have appetite for… again depending on context and stakeholders). What are your thoughts on how joint activities need to be for it to be categorized as knowledge coproduction?


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