Six lessons from students about transdisciplinary learning

By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch

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1. Irina Dallo (biography)
2. Jan Freihardt (biography)
3. Juanita von Rothkirch (biography)

What is an effective way of providing students with practical experience in stakeholder engagement? How can students learn to communicate and engage with community members on a transdisciplinary project, as well as how to create a space for those community members to reflect on their daily lives through interactions and discussions with the student outsiders? What makes it possible for students to broaden their horizons and to acquire new competences and skills?

We present our reflections on how the Winter School 2020 “Science meets Practice” run by ETH Zürich successfully contributed to our transdisciplinary learning process. We suggest there are six key lessons for those who want to design a successful course.

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How can we amplify impact to foster transformative change?

By David P. M. Lam

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David P. M. Lam (biography)

How can the impact of sustainability and other initiatives be scaled or amplified to achieve transformative change?

There are hundreds of promising sustainability initiatives emerging around the world. A sustainability initiative is, for example, a local food initiative from citizens and farmers who promote healthy and organic food production and consumption. Another example is the installation of solar panels by a community to support the use of renewable energies. Such initiatives provide potential solutions for urgent sustainability problems, for instance, biodiversity loss, climate change, social injustice, and poverty in rural areas or cities.

This blog post is based on a review of the literature to understand how sustainability transformations research is currently conceptualizing the scaling or amplifying of impact from initiatives. Although our focus was on sustainability, the processes are likely to also be pertinent for other initiatives.

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How librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams

By Kelly Miller and Kineret Ben-Knaan

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1. Kelly Miller (biography)
2. Kineret Ben-Knaan (biography)

What can librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams working on complex problems? We suggest that librarians add value in the following three ways:

  1. finding and accessing information resources across disciplines
  2. connecting teams to experts and resources, and
  3. improving collaboration and communication strategies.

Our experience comes from being part of the University of Miami’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge initiative, also known as U-LINK, which aims to address the world’s most compelling problems through interdisciplinary inquiry. From 2018-2020, teams of scholars from multiple disciplines have received funding to pursue solutions to global challenges.

Librarians have been embedded in each of the teams.

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Applying human-centered design to virtual conference planning

By Kristine Glauber, Ben Miller and Christine Ogilvie Hendren

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1. Kristine Glauber (biography)
2. Ben Miller (biography)
3. Christine Ogilvie Hendren (biography)

What is needed to envision and create a virtual conference at which attendees have direct agency in execution of customized, richly interactive sessions?

We share three guideposts from a human-centered design framework in recasting the 11th Annual International Science of Team Science Conference from a face-to-face to a virtual meeting after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Develop your design principle

Develop your goals for the meeting overall and each individual conference element.These can be referenced when making decisions about how to accomplish a particular task.

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Practical actions for fostering cross-disciplinary research

By Yan Ding, Justin Pulford, Susie Crossman and Imelda Bates

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1. Yan Ding (biography)
2. Justin Pulford (biography)
3. Susie Crossman (biography)
4. Imelda Bates (biography)

How can we facilitate cross-disciplinary research in practice? What practical actions are considered important for participating in cross-disciplinary research? How do these actions change at the individual, research team/programme and institutional/funder level?

Cross-disciplinary research approaches allow for the interchange of knowledge and experience to stimulate innovative responses to complex research challenges.

Individual researchers

The individual researcher requires certain personal attributes for effective participation in cross-disciplinary research.

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Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence

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Roderick Lawrence (biography)

What do we mean by “scaffolding” and how is it used in transdisciplinary research?

Scaffolding is a metaphor transferred from building construction and used in pedagogy and teaching methods since the 1970s to assist learning processes. This metaphor has also been applied to multi-stakeholder processes that require collective decision making about complex societal challenges including conflictual situations. In this context scaffolding is used in deliberative processes, identifying those constituents that require facilitation, and selecting the appropriate methods and tools to achieve desired outcomes.

Scaffolding is increasingly recognized as necessary to assist bridge building between people, especially in transdisciplinary research and project implementation about complex situations and persistent problems that have no simple solutions.

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Are research institutes fulfilling their interdisciplinary roles in universities?

By Paul Bolger

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Paul Bolger (biography)

The number of research centres and institutes within universities has exploded in the last two decades, but how effective have they been in delivering on their interdisciplinary goals?

A key raison d’etre for establishing a research centre or institute is to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines in a particular area of research study, and to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. You don’t have to read too far into mission statements and websites to encounter a goal to be cross-, multi-, inter-, or trans- disciplinary.

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How can co-labouring improve transdisciplinary research?

By Robert Pijpers and Sabine Luning

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1. Robert Pijpers (biography)
2. Sabine Luning (biography)

What do we mean by co-labouring? What practices does it involve? How can it enhance interactions among researchers and key stakeholders in transdisciplinary research?

Defining co-labouring

Choosing the notion of ‘co-labouring’ in our transdisciplinary project stems from an awareness that creating alternative perspectives, eg., on sustainable futures for mining, is a complex endeavor. Ideas of researchers wanting to give voice to unheard groups at the margin are too often based on simple models of translation. These assumptions underestimate what gets lost in translation, or the gaps in understandings between different groups of stakeholders.

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Researcher activism: A voice of experience

By Dorothy Broom

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Dorothy Broom (biography)

In reflecting on my researcher-activist role in women’s health, I’ve come up with six tips that may provide guidance to those embarking on such a role. The lessons I draw can also be relevant in other fields of endeavour, in population health, environmental research and beyond.

Tip 1: Build your legitimacy with those you are aiming to influence and those you are advocating for

My academic research in the 1980s and 90s on the politics of women’s health was distinct from my feminist political activism. Prompted by intellectual curiosity, I developed a research profile that fortuitously prepared me to take on an advocacy role at a time of major policy foment.

My publications and conference presentations gave me legitimacy with public servants charged with policy and program development; while my personal involvement in feminist social action gave me a different kind of credibility with social-movement actors.

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Outbreaks, break-outs and break-times: Creating caring online workshops

By The Care Operative

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The Care Operative details

How can online workshops be productive, engaging, caring and fun? How can researchers creatively adapt to a ‘virtual normal’ and develop caring and co-operative ways of working?

In March 2020, we – 20 international sustainability science colleagues – were prohibited from meeting face-to-face by COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Yet, we had time blocked out and a detailed workshop schedule. Within 48 hours, with invaluable help from experienced facilitator Concepción Piñeiro, we shifted the workshop online, adapting for virtual collaboration.

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Implementation during a time of crisis: The critical role of trusting relationships

By Allison Metz

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Allison Metz (biography)

Are there lessons we can learn from the current response of service systems which have galvanized into action to meet the needs of children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic? How does the response of service systems affect our hypotheses about how change happens at scale?

In my professional role providing implementation support to public service systems, I’ve observed these systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with urgency and agility. The urgency is to be expected, but the agility has inspired me.

The agility runs counter to accepted wisdom in implementation science that implementation takes time.

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Three principles for co-designing intervention strategies

By David Lam

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David Lam (biography)

What processes are involved when researchers and local actors co-design context-specific intervention strategies? This ‘how to’ knowledge is outlined in the three principles described below. Local actors can include non-governmental organisations, local leaders, community groups and individual activists.

Principle 1. Explore existing and envisioned initiatives fostering change towards the desired future 

This has 3 key steps:

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