Four typical behaviours in interdisciplinary knowledge integration

By Annemarie Horn and Eduardo Urias

1. Annemarie Horn (biography)
2. Eduardo Urias (biography)

Why do some collaborators in interdisciplinary teamwork clash? And why does collaboration between others seem smooth but not yield anything? What causes these differences in collaboration, and how can this inform interventions to support interdisciplinary collaboration and integration?

When we started teaching an interdisciplinary masters course, we expected it to become a battlefield, based on our reading of countless lists of the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration. We thought that the students’ diverse study backgrounds – ranging from arts to medicine, and from social sciences to mathematics – would cause tensions; that they would disagree with each other about theories and methods that they were unfamiliar with and held opinions about.

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Boosting the transformative power of transdisciplinarity with quantum theory

By Cyrille Rigolot

Cyrille Rigolot (biography)

How can transdisciplinarity improve its ability to foster very deep, very fast and very large transformations toward sustainability?

Quantum theory might be a major source of insights in that direction. Although quantum theory is not new to transdisciplinarity, lately it has become much more accessible, practical, and potentially transformative on the ground.

Quantum theory for transdisciplinarity research

In the debates last century about the emerging transdisciplinary research field, quantum theory inspired theorist Basarab Nicolescu to develop three basic ‘axioms’, which he argues should be recognized at the core of transdisciplinarity research, namely:

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Five questions to understand epistemology and its influence on integrative research processes

By Katie Moon, Chris Cvitanovic, Deborah A. Blackman, Ivan R. Scales and Nicola K. Browne

1. Katie Moon; 2. Chris Cvitanovic; 3. Deborah A. Blackman; 4. Ivan R. Scales; 5. Nicola K. Browne (biographies)

How can we reduce the barriers to successful integrative research processes? In particular, how can we understand the different epistemologies that underpin knowledge?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that asks: how do we know what we know? It is concerned with how we can ensure that knowledge is both adequate and legitimate, by considering:

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Transdisciplinary integration: A multidimensional interactive process

By Dena Fam, Julie Thompson Klein, Sabine Hoffman, Cynthia Mitchell and Christian Pohl

1. Dena Fam; 2. Julie Thompson Klein; 3. Sabine Hoffman; 4. Cynthia Mitchell; 5. Christian Pohl (biographies)

The concept of integration is widely regarded as the crux of transdisciplinary research, education, and practice. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach or methodology. Projects and programs vary in purpose, scale and scope, problem focus, research question, mix of expertise, degree of coordination and communication, timing, and responsibility for integration. Based on findings in a study of integration we conducted (Pohl et al., 2021), we address four common questions to provide insights into transdisciplinary integration as a multidimensional interactive process.

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A new alliance between the natural and human sciences?

By Sergio Mariotti

Sergio Mariotti (biography)

How can we forge a new alliance between the natural and human sciences in order to deal with complex problems? Can economics and engineering show the way? Where does transdisciplinarity fit?

Ilya Prigogine based his 1990s theory of complexity on the need for a “new alliance” between the natural and human sciences in order to restore a unified knowledge based on plurality, diversity and multiple perspectives.

I explore what this would mean if we focus on two disciplines – economics and engineering – in the context of one complex problem: a future society increasingly influenced by the cluster of organizational and market innovations induced by Artificial Intelligence technologies.

Economists and engineers have played a vital role in the evolution of our modern society. The related disciplines have intertwined with each other, leading to mutual cross-fertilization.

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Navigating intercultural relations in transdisciplinary practice: The partial overlaps framework

By David Ludwig, Vitor Renck & Charbel N. El-Hani

1. David Ludwig (biography)
2. Vitor Renck (biography)
3. Charbel N. El-Hani (biography)

How can local knowledge be effectively and fairly incorporated in transdisciplinary projects? How can such projects avoid “knowledge mining” and “knowledge appropriation” that recognize marginalized knowledge only where it is convenient for dominant actors and their goals? In addition, how can knowledge integration programs avoid being naive or even harmful by forcing Indigenous people into regimes of knowledge production that continue to be dominated by the perspectives of external researchers?

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Capitalising on incommensurability

By Darryn Reid

Darryn Reid (biography)

How can we harness incommensurability as a pivotal enabler of cross-disciplinary collaboration?

Effective cross-disciplinary research across multiple traditional disparate fields of study hinges on logical incommensurability, which occurs because, in general, those ideas will have been constructed using incompatible frameworks to solve distinct problem formulations within dissimilar intellectual traditions.

In other words, the internal logical consistency of a discipline’s way of approaching problems is no guarantee of ability to be integrated with another discipline’s way of approaching problems. Incommensurability should come as no surprise to anyone involved in cross-disciplinary activities. What is pivotal here, however, is the view that incommensurability is not an obstacle to be avoided or feared but an enabler.

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Addressing societal challenges: From interdisciplinarity to research portfolios analysis

By Ismael Rafols

Ismael Rafols (biography)

How can knowledge integration for addressing societal challenges be mapped, ‘measured’ and assessed?

In this blog post I argue that measuring averages or aggregates of ‘interdisciplinarity’ is not sufficiently focused for evaluating research aimed at societal contributions. Instead, one should take a portfolio approach to analyze knowledge integration as a systemic process over research landscapes; in particular, focusing on the directions, diversity and synergies of research trajectories.

There are two main reasons:

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A successful model of integration in an art-science project

By Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien

Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien (biography)

How can new-media art-science projects move beyond raising public awareness of science to achieve a high level of layperson involvement in a scientific process? How can such projects use two-path integration:

  1. across multiple academic disciplines, and
  2. including the participation of laypeople?

In 2017, I developed an interactive game, using a holographic scene, where participants had to interact physically with their neural activities to complete the required processes and tasks (see the figure immediately below). A participant was attached to EEG (electroencephalography) monitoring and then, when standing at a table that had a set of holographic plates laid out upon it, they had to puzzle-out a hologram of a toy.

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Interdisciplinarity and synergy in collaborations

By Loet Leydesdorff

Loet Leydesdorff (biography)

What is the difference between “interdisciplinarity” and “synergy?” Why does it matter? How can indicators of interdisciplinarity and synergy be conceptualized and defined mathematically? Can one measure interdisciplinarity and synergy?

Problem-solving often requires crossing boundaries, such as those between disciplines. However, interdisciplinarity is not an objective in itself, but a means for creating synergy. When policy-makers call for interdisciplinarity, they may mean synergy. Synergy means that the whole offers more possibilities than the sum of its parts. The measurement of synergy, however, requires a methodology very different from interdisciplinarity. In this blog post, I consider each of these measures in turn, the logic underpinning each of them, and I specify the definitions in mathematical terms.

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Integration: The IPO model

By Stephen Crowley and Graham Hubbs

1. Stephen Crowley (biography)
2. Graham Hubbs (biography)

How can we improve our understanding of knowledge integration? What are the elements of integration?

Sometimes what gets integrated are products of science, such as data sets or scientific models. Sometimes it is not the products that are integrated but instead the methods, as can happen on interdisciplinary teams. On these teams, scientists work together, so sometimes it is the people themselves (scientists are people!) or their disciplinary cultures that get integrated.

These are only some of the possible elements of integration. There is just as wide a variety of processes and products of integration as there are elements. The process of integrating data sets might be a sort of analysis, and the result might be a table or graph that displays the results of research in a conspicuous manner. Integrating diverse scientists into an interdisciplinary team, by contrast, is a matter of people working together, and the result of the integration is not a table or a graph but the team itself.

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HIBAR research: What is it and how can it be reinvigorated?

By Lorne A. Whitehead, Scott H. Slovic and Janet E. Nelson

1. Lorne A. Whitehead (biography)
2. Scott H. Slovic (biography)
3. Janet E. Nelson (biography)

How can we recognize and encourage investigations that holistically fuse fundamental and applied research on a problem of interest in a manner that is both (a) integrative and recursive and (b) highly collaborative with non-university experts?


We refer to this form of research as “Highly Integrative Basic And Responsive” (HIBAR). It adds deep university-society engagement to the work that Donald Stokes named “Pasteur’s quadrant” (Stokes 1997) and others have called “use-inspired basic research”.

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