Insights into interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in India and Brazil

By Marcel Bursztyn and Seema Purushothaman

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1. Marcel Bursztyn (biography)
2. Seema Purushothaman (biography)

How are interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity faring in India and Brazil? How do they differ from interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the Global North? Are there particular lessons to be drawn from India and Brazil for the global interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary communities?

India and Brazil are among the most prominent countries of the Global South in the worldwide academic scene. Both have problems in common, but they have also singularities.

The focus in both countries at the institutional level tends to be on what is referred to as interdisciplinarity. The emergence of a new generation of liberal universities and other academic institutions open to interdisciplinary scholarship has allowed a small cohort of interdisciplinary scholars to emerge.

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Place-based methodologies in transdisciplinary research

By Alexandra Crosby and Ilaria Vanni

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1. Alexandra Crosby (biography)
2. Ilaria Vanni (biography)

How can place-based methodologies be integrated into transdisciplinary research?

Locating research in a real physical place is vital in building culture and making important insights more visible to diverse audiences. But for many researchers and community members, place is more than location. People have important attachments to place that change and influence the outcomes of transdisciplinary research, which is one reason to integrate some place-based methodologies into your projects. Our research studio ‘Mapping Edges’, for example, employs place-based methodologies to identify, analyse and amplify civic ecologies and to propose more sustainable ways to design and live in cities.

Place-based research engages with multiple methodological debates, reflecting humanities and social sciences’ increasing interest in space and place.

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Integrating context, formats and effects in transdisciplinary research

By tdAcademy 2021 GAIA paper authors

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Author biographies

What are the key aspects of transdisciplinary research and how can they be integrated effectively?

Four key aspects of transdisciplinary research are:

  • context dependencies
  • innovative formats
  • societal effects
  • scientific effects.

These are illustrated in the figure below, along with a summary of an ‘ideal’ transdisciplinary research process.

1. Context dependencies

Context dependencies are the factors that influence both the research design and the interpretation of results and include:

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Eleven success factors for transdisciplinary real-world labs

By Niko Schäpke, Oskar Marg, Matthias Bergmann, Franziska Stelzer and Daniel J. Lang

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1. Niko Schäpke; 2. Oskar Marg; 3. Matthias Bergmann; 4. Franziska Stelzer; 5. Daniel Lang (biographies)

What is required for transdisciplinary real-world laboratories (labs) to successfully tackle and achieve long-term societal change? How can they make the change process transferable? What is required of the societal and scientific actors?

We discuss eleven success factors to facilitate successful transdisciplinary collaboration and to achieve desired societal effects. These are based on an accompanying research project, which supported and observed several real-world labs, aiming to develop overarching insights on methods and success factors.

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Understanding researcher positionality using the insider-outsider continuum

By Rebecca Laycock Pedersen and Varvara Nikulina

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1. Rebecca Laycock Pedersen (biography)
2. Varvara Nikulina (biography)

How can researchers express their positionality? What does positionality mean?

In working at the interface of science and society, researchers play many different roles, even within a single project, as, for example:

As researchers, our role within a project is a part of our ‘positionality,’ or our social position. Positionality as defined by Agar (1996) is whether one sees oneself as an outsider, a ‘neutral’ investigator, or something else.

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Core competencies for implementation practice

By Sobia Khan and Julia E. Moore

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1. Sobia Khan (biography)
2. Julia E. Moore (biography)

How can implementation practitioners – those who are implementing in practice rather than for research – become more effective? How can the pragmatism required to apply implementation science principles to practice be taught and fostered? What are the core competencies of implementation practice?

We conducted a scan of the literature and grey literature and then consolidated six existing core competency documents, covering implementation practice, knowledge translation, and knowledge mobilization. The core competencies outlined across these six documents required some synthesis and re-framing in order to really make sense and resonate with practitioners, particularly to address differences across settings.

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Five organizational features for successful interdisciplinary research

By Jessica Blythe and Chris Cvitanovic

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1. Jessica Blythe (biography)
2. Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

How can significant challenges associated with doing interdisciplinary research be overcome? What are the best ways to build institutional capacity and structures that support interdisciplinary research?

We have identified five key organizational features that enable successful interdisciplinary research. These are based on an evaluation of the Centre for Marine Socioecology in Tasmania, Australia, which brings together disciplinary expertise in physics, law, economics, biology, sociology and governance. We obtained perspectives across all disciplines and career stages from PhD students to the leadership team.

The five organizational features, also shown in the figure below, are:

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Choosing a suitable transdisciplinary research framework

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are some of the key frameworks that can be used for transdisciplinary research? What are their particular strengths? How can you choose one that’s most suitable for your transdisciplinary project?

The nine frameworks described here were highlighted in a series for which I was the commissioning editor. The series was published in the scientific journal GAIA: Ecological Perspectives in Science and Society between mid-2017 and end-2019.

Choosing among them is not a matter of right or wrong, but of each being more or less helpful for a particular problem in a particular context.

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How can expertise in research integration and implementation help tackle complex problems?

By Gabriele Bammer

author - gabriele bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What is expertise in research integration and implementation? What is its role in helping tackle complex societal and environmental problems, especially those dimensions that define complexity?

Expertise in research integration and implementation

Addressing complex societal and environmental problems requires specific expertise over and above that contributed by existing disciplines, but there is little formal recognition of what that expertise is or reward for contributing it to a research team’s efforts. In brief, such expertise includes the ability to:

  • identify relevant disciplinary and stakeholder inputs
  • effectively integrate them for a more comprehensive understanding of the problem
  • support more effective actions to ameliorate the problem.

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What do you know? And how is it relevant to unknown unknowns?

By Matthew Welsh

Author - Matthew Welsh
Matthew Welsh (biography)

How can we distinguish between knowledge and ignorance and our meta-knowledge of these – that is, whether we are aware that we know or don’t know any particular thing? The common answer is the 2×2 trope of: known knowns; unknown knowns; known unknowns; and unknown unknowns.

For those interested in helping people navigate a complex world, unknown unknowns are perhaps the trickiest of these to explain – partly because the moment you think of an example, the previously “unknown unknown” morphs into a “known unknown”.

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Keys to transformation: Interactions of values, rules and knowledge

By Russell Gorddard, Matthew Colloff, Russell Wise and Michael Dunlop

Adapting to climate change can require profound alterations in environmental management and policy. However the social context of a decision process limits options and resists change, often dooming attempts to adapt to climate change even before they begin. How can decision makers in policy and management more effectively see the institutional and social water they swim in, in order to better drive change?

Values, rules and knowledge (vrk) provide a useful heuristic to help decision makers analyze how the social system shapes their decision context. Put simply, decisions require:

  • knowledge of options and their implications
  • values to assess the options
  • rules that enable implementation.
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Figure adapted from original in Gordardd et al. (2016)

Viewing the decision context as an interconnected system of values, rules and knowledge can reveal limits to adaptation and suggest strategies for addressing them (Gorddard et al. 2016).

Values are the set of ethical precepts that determine the way people select actions and evaluate events.

Rules are both rules-in-use (norms, practices, habits, heuristics) and rules-in-form (regulations, laws, directives).

Knowledge is both evidence-based (scientific and technical) knowledge and experiential knowledge.

Decision context is the subset of interacting subsystems that are at play in a particular decision process. One core idea is that the decision context may exclude relevant values, knowledge or rules from being considered in decisions. Adaptation may therefore involve change in the decision context.

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Russell Gorddard (biography)

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Matthew Colloff (biography)

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Russell Wise (biography)

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Michael Dunlop (biography)

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Going beyond ‘context matters’: A lens to bridge knowledge and policy

By Leandro Echt and Vanesa Weyrauch

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Leandro Echt (biography)

The role and importance of context in the interaction between research and policy is widely recognized. It features in general literature on the subject, in case studies on how research has successfully influenced policy (or not), and in practitioners´ reflections on the results of their work. But how does context specifically matter? Can we move beyond generic statements?

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Vanesa Weyrauch (biography)

To find some answers to these complex questions, Purpose & Ideas and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) embarked on a joint knowledge systematization effort, combining a literature review with in-depth interviews with 48 experts and policymakers, mostly in developing countries.

What do we mean by context?

Our first challenge was to define what we concretely mean by context.

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