By Sibylle Studer and Theres Paulsen
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:
- Jointly envisaging a transdisciplinary project, especially:
- Developing a rough project idea
- Clarifying who to involve
- Developing a rough procedure for co-producing knowledge.
- 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.
- Jointly conducting research, especially:
- Jointly generating knowledge
- Integrating knowledge
- Jointly assessing quality with respect to scientific rigour, social robustness and practical relevance.
- 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:
- Identifying actors, roles and expectations, especially:
- Identifying actors and clarifying who to involve
- Specifying roles, tasks and responsibilities
- Clarifying expectations.
- 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.
- Striving for societal relevance, especially:
- Reviewing understandings of societal problem situations
- Questioning scientific framings.
- Navigating through normative dimensions, especially:
- Raising awareness of normative dimensions.
- 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.
- 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.
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): https://www.transdisciplinarity.ch/toolbox (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:
Emancipatory boundary critique
Outcome spaces framework
Theory of change
Three types of knowledge tool
Toolbox dialogue approach: see https://i2insights.org/2021/03/02/toolbox-dialogue-method/ and https://i2insights.org/2022/05/05/diversity-in-good-research/.
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 (http://www.itd-alliance.org/) 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 (www.transdisciplinarity.ch) 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.