A collaborative vision and pathways for transforming academia

By The Care Operative and “Transforming Academia” workshop participants at 2021 International Transdisciplinarity Conference

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Author biographies

What do we want academia to be like in 2050? Is academia on the right track? What will it take to agree on and realize a joint vision that can steer life in science towards a more sustainable and agreeable place to work, to learn, to share and to appreciate knowledge?

The issues raised here are based on a workshop with more than 40 participants at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2021. The discussion was initiated and hosted by the Careoperative, a leadership collective motivated to explore, embody and pollinate transformational sustainability and transdisciplinary research.

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Can cultural hegemony explain resistance to transdisciplinarity?

By Livia Fritz, Ulli Vilsmaier and Dena Fam

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1. Livia Fritz (biography)
2. Ulli Vilsmaier (biography)
2. Dena Fam (biography)

What are the reasons for resistance to transdisciplinary research and education? And what insights can Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist party in the early 20th Century, offer?

We argue that one of the main reasons for resistance is that transdisciplinarity subverts well-established and often unquestioned structures, practices and values in academia. In particular, transdisciplinarity challenges persistent organizational structures, mechanisms of knowledge production and evaluation criteria based on disciplinary models of research and higher education.

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Implementing transdisciplinary research in post-Soviet Armenia and Georgia

By Tigran Keryan and Tamara Mitrofanenko

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1. Tigran Keryan (biography)
2. Tamara Mitrofanenko (biography)

What characterized the Soviet academic system and what is its legacy in two post-Soviet countries, Armenia and Georgia? What would it take for transdisciplinarity to flourish in those countries?

The Soviet academic system

During the Soviet era, the natural and technical sciences were prioritized, while the social sciences and humanities were marginalized. In addition, research functions were removed from the responsibilities of academic institutions and placed under the authority of the Academies of Sciences, which are central state-governed research institutes. Thus, the role of the universities was reduced to teaching, undermining the research capacity of higher educational institutions up to this day.

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Sixth annual review

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

As the blog enters its 7th year, it is time for the annual review of how well it is meeting its aims of:

  • sharing concepts, methods and other tools for tackling complex societal and environmental problems and acting as a repository of those tools
  • being a global vehicle for exchange, discussion and network building to strengthen use of those tools.

All the trends are in the right direction, providing impetus to keep expanding the base of contributors and coverage of key topics. If you have developed a relevant tool or use an existing tool in a new way, I would love to hear from you. Comments on blog posts are always valuable. And, of course, feedback and suggestions are welcome.

This is the last blog post for 2021.

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Eight ways research institutes enable interdisciplinary research

By Paul Bolger

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Paul Bolger (biography)

One of the most substantial structural changes and investments to support interdisciplinarity within universities has been the widespread establishment of research institutes. Many have made the pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration a central goal in their research mission. Biancani and colleagues (2014) have likened research institutes to a semi-formal organisation occupying a plane between the formal university and informal research teams. Membership of the semi-formal organisation is voluntary and researchers and groups can flexibly come together for short or long periods and depart when no longer needed.

How do these entities establish collaborative communities, and create the conditions necessary for effective interdisciplinary research?

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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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What is needed to institutionalise transdisciplinarity?

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are the indicators that transdisciplinarity has been institutionalised? How close is it? What still needs to be done to achieve institutionalisation?

Transdisciplinary teaching and research are becoming more common in universities and a range of research organisations. So how will we know that transdisciplinarity is an integral and accepted part of the research and higher education scene, nationally and internationally?

I suggest that there are two primary criteria:

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What’s required for universities to address complex societal challenges?

By David D. Hart and Linda Silka

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1. David D. Hart (biography)
2. Linda Silka (biography)

How can universities use their broad array of expertise to help in understanding and addressing complex challenges, including pandemics, environmental degradation, poverty and climate change?

For more than a decade, we have been engaged in an innovative collaboration with more than 200 faculty from nearly 30 academic disciplines to align university research with societal needs. We conceived of this initiative as an “institutional experiment,” in which our public university in the US state of Maine served as the “laboratory.”

Given Maine’s priorities and our collective expertise, we focused these problem-solving efforts on the challenge of sustainable development, which requires a dual focus on improving human well-being and protecting the environment.

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Setting an agenda for transdisciplinary research in Africa

By Basirat Oyalowo

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Basirat Oyalowo (biography)

Why is transdisciplinary research important for the advancement of African countries? What are the key issues that need to be taken into account in fostering such research?

This blog post presents key lessons from the ‘Transdisciplinary Research Workshop: Rethinking Research in COVID-19 times’, held in August 2020, in which we brought together academia, government, civil society, industry and development agencies to delve into how researchers might navigate the new terrain wrought by COVID-19 in Africa and use it to further the development of transdisciplinary research. Although the focus of the workshop was urbanization and habitable cities and on adjusting to COVID-19, the lessons for enhancing transdisciplinary research are more broadly generalizable.

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i2Insights ambassadors and fifth annual review

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

In November the blog had its fifth birthday. It was an occasion to reflect on how far we have come and where we want to head. Here we describe our new i2Insights Ambassadors program to acknowledge those who champion the blog and to highlight ways supporters can help the blog achieve its aims.

We also share the highlights of 2020 and major improvements made to the blog this year. Finally we showcase 13 blog posts published in 2020 that achieved more than 750 views.

If you are looking for short, thought-provoking reading, there are now well over 300 blog posts to choose from. Rummage through the blog scroll or the list of highlighted posts (this list was removed on 5/8/21). Or search the index or use the advanced search to find topics that may interest you.

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Effectively leading interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations

By Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations

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Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations details (biographies)

What qualities and skills do leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need?

Leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need the qualities that make any leader successful—creativity, humility, open-mindedness, long-term vision, and being a team player. In addition, we identified eight leadership attributes that are specific to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions and that help leaders to be transformative with real world impacts. Leaders need to cultivate:

  1. vision beyond the status quo
  2. collaborative leadership
  3. partnerships
  4. shared culture
  5. communications with multiple audiences
  6. appropriate monitoring and evaluation
  7. perseverance
  8. resources for success.

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Systems transdisciplinarity as a metadiscipline

By Vladimir Mokiy

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Vladimir Mokiy (biography)

In 1990, specialists from the Russian School of Transdisciplinarity began to develop the type of systems transdisciplinarity proposed by Erich Jantsch in 1972. He argued for the coordination of all disciplines and interdisciplines in the education and innovation system on the basis of a generalized axiomatic and an emerging epistemological pattern.

Since this approach has a philosophical rationale, conceptual and methodological basis, and appropriate technological methods, it can be considered as an independent metadiscipline – systems transdisciplinarity.

Transdisciplinarity as a meta-discipline has the following basic attributes:

  • a meta-theory; and,
  • a meta-narrative.

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