Theory of change in inter- and transdisciplinary research

By Josefa Kny, Sabine Hoffmann, Emilia Nagy and Martina Schäfer

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1. Josefa Kny (biography)
2. Sabine Hoffmann (biography)
3. Emilia Nagy (biography)
4. Martina Schäfer (biography)

What are key functions of theory of change? For what purposes can we use theory of change in inter- and transdisciplinary research?

A theory of change maps the assumed relationships between activities and short-, medium- and long-term changes of an intervention, program or project. It makes assumptions about why and how such changes occur transparent. Theory of change approaches have their origins in theory-based evaluation and Paulo Freire’s theory of societal change (Freire, 1970) and have predominantly been used in development research and practice since the late 1990s.

In general, theory of change can be understood as a process and a product, as described by Heléne Clarke in her i2Insights contribution Theory of Change in a nutshell. In the process, a group of involved actors develop their shared understanding of how the program, project or intervention will bring about a desired change. The product is a narrative and/or visualisation which illustrates how such change will be achieved.

Although theory of change was not developed for inter- and transdisciplinary research, both the process and the product are relevant for such investigations.

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Connecting and building capacity in the transdisciplinary research community

By Josefa Kny and David P. M. Lam

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1. Josefa Kny (biography) (photograph by Leyla Hoppe)
2. David P. M. Lam (biography)

What does the transdisciplinary research community want when it comes to building a global and virtual community, as well as capacity?

In developing a new interactive online platform, we surveyed 122 transdisciplinary researchers, mostly from German-speaking countries, and ran an online workshop with 27 early career transdisciplinary researchers from 8 European countries to assess what they would find most effective.

The key needs identified in the survey were to:

  • receive and share information on community- and capacity- building activities
  • have opportunities to network and discuss within an online community
  • share their own research projects and experiences.

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