Linking learning and research through transdisciplinary competences

By BinBin Pearce

BinBin Pearce (biography)

What are the objectives of transdisciplinary learning? What are the key competences and how do they relate to both educational goals and transdisciplinary research goals? At Transdisciplinarity Lab (TdLab), our group answered these questions by observing and reflecting upon the six courses at Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD levels that we design and teach in the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Six competence fields describe what we hope students can do with the help of our courses. A competence field contains a set of interconnected learning objectives for students. We use these competence fields as the basis for curriculum design.

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Leading large transdisciplinary projects

By Sanford D. Eigenbrode, Lois Wright Morton, and Timothy Martin

Sanford D. Eigenbrode (biography)

What’s required to lead exceptionally large projects involving many dozens of participants from various scientific disciplines (including biophysical, social, and economic), multiple stakeholders, and efforts spanning a gamut from discovery to implementation? Such projects are common when investigating social-ecological systems which are inherently complex and large in spatial and temporal scales. Problems are commonly multifaceted, with incomplete or apparently contradictory knowledge, stakeholders with divergent positions, and large economic or social consequences.

Leaders of such very large projects confront unique challenges in addition to those inherent to directing interdisciplinary efforts:

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Overcoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments

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Machiel Keestra (biography)

By Machiel Keestra

How can we adequately prepare and train students to navigate transdisciplinary environments? How can we develop hybrid spaces in our universities that are suitable for transdisciplinary education?

These questions were considered by a plenary panel, which I organised and chaired at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2017 at Leuphana University, Germany. Three major educational requirements were identified:

  • long-term collaborations with businesses, as well as non-governmental, governmental and community organisations
  • teaching particular dispositions and competencies
  • preparing students for intercultural endeavours.

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Three lessons from statistics for interdisciplinarians and fellow travellers

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

In last week’s blog post on recognising interdisciplinary expertise I argued that forming a new i2S discipline could help embed interdisciplinarity and related approaches (transdisciplinarity, systems thinking, action research, T-shaped research and others) in the academic mainstream. But how would such a discipline work? What are the challenges to establishing an i2S discipline and how could they be overcome?

The discipline of statistics provides three productive analogies. Key to success in both statistics and i2S are: collaboration, dedicated journals to publish advances in concepts and methods, and lobbying for effective application of the discipline.

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Recognising interdisciplinary expertise

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

By Gabriele Bammer

Could we overcome the challenges of embedding interdisciplinarity in the academic mainstream if relevant expertise were defined and recognized as a new discipline? What is this relevant expertise?

Here I consider team-based interdisciplinarity addressing complex societal and environmental problems and argue that it needs specific expertise over and above that contributed by disciplines. This set of knowledge and skills is currently poorly defined and recognized.

If contributing such know-how was an established role, it could provide a way of more adequately integrating interdisciplinary researchers into academic institutions. Furthermore, the time is ripe to codify that expertise by pulling together lessons from decades of experience.

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Learning from Google about inter- and transdisciplinary leadership

By Janet G. Hering

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Janet G. Hering (biography)

Like most engineers, the Google leadership had assumed that the leader of an engineering team must be at least as competent technically as the members of the team. As Laszlo Bock described in his 2015 book Work Rules!, however, a data-driven assessment disproved this assumption. The counter-intuitive result of “Project Oxygen” was that having “important technical skills that help advise the team” only ranked number eight in the list of key attributes differentiating the most from the least effective managers.

This is very good news for leaders of inter- and transdisciplinary synthesis projects since it’s highly unlikely that these leaders could have all the subject expertise relevant to their projects. If subject expertise is not the most important characteristic of leadership, then what kind of expertise should leaders have and what kind of roles do they play? How important are leaders and leadership in such synthesis projects?

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Transkillery! What skills are needed to be a boundary crosser?

By Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Dana Cordell

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Dena Fam (biography)

What skills and dispositions are required by researchers and practitioners in transdisciplinary research and practice in crossing boundaries, sectors and paradigms?

The insights here come from interviews with 14 internationally recognized transdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, chosen from a diverse range of research and practice-based perspectives.

tanzi-smith
Tanzi Smith (biography)

Here we focus on:

1) skills for specific tasks such as facilitation of a meeting, crafting a well-written report, and communicating effectively across disciplines; and,

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Dana Cordell (biography)

2) dispositions, attitudes, orientations and temperaments of an effective researcher/practitioner, i.e., as a way of being.

Six categories of skills and dispositions

The core skills and dispositions of an exceptional transdisciplinary researcher/practitioner can be grouped into six categories, illustrated in the figure below.

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What makes a translational ecologist? Part 3: Dispositional attributes

By the Translational Ecology Group 

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Translational Ecology Group (participants)

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Four related blog posts on translational ecology:

Introduction to translational ecology

What makes a translational ecologist – Part 1: Knowledge / Part 2: Skills / Part 3: Dispositional attributes (this blog post)

This is the third and final blog post considering competencies to make ecologists more effective in informing and supporting policy and practice change (see the right sidebar for links to all four related blog posts on translational ecology). In other words these are the competencies underpinning a new discipline of translational ecology.

The two previous blog posts examined the knowledge and skills required in three major areas:

  1. Socio-ecological systems
  2. Communication across boundaries, with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists
  3. Engagement with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists.

This blog post uses the same three areas to examine the dispositional attributes required.

What are dispositional attributes?

Each person’s internal cognitive and moral qualities are collectively known as dispositions.

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What makes a translational ecologist? Part 2: Skills

By the Translational Ecology Group 

translational-ecology-group
Translational Ecology Group (participants)

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Four related blog posts on translational ecology:

Introduction to translational ecology

What makes a translational ecologist – Part 1: Knowledge / Part 2: Skills (this blog post) / Part 3: Dispositional attributes

This is the second blog post considering competencies that underpin a new discipline of translational ecology, and which make ecologists more effective in informing and supporting policy and practice change (see the right sidebar for links to all four related blog posts on translational ecology). In each blog post we examine three major areas:

  1. Socio-ecological systems
  2. Communication across boundaries, with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists
  3. Engagement with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists.

Here we engage with these three areas to examine the skills required for translational ecologists.

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What makes a translational ecologist? Part 1: Knowledge

By the Translational Ecology Group 

translational-ecology-group
Translational Ecology Group (participants)

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Four related blog posts on translational ecology:

Introduction to translational ecology

What makes a translational ecologist – Part 1: Knowledge (this post) / Part 2: Skills / Part 3: Dispositional attributes

What does it take for ecologists to become more effective in informing and supporting policy and practice change? What are the competencies underpinning the new discipline of translational ecology? What needs to be covered in graduate courses on translational ecology?

A group of us, supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), have been addressing these questions. As well as defining translational ecology, we have developed a matrix covering relevant knowledge, skills and, what we call, dispositional attributes or personal characteristics. We deal with each of these in four related blog posts, as described in the right sidebar.

We argue that knowledge is required in three major areas:

  1. Socio-ecological systems
  2. Communication across boundaries, with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists
  3. Engagement with beneficiaries, stakeholders and other scientists.

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Transdisciplinarity: Learning together to teach together

By BinBin Pearce, Carolina Adler and Christian Pohl

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BinBin Pearce (biography)

Are there innovative methods that enable students to frame and confront the complexity of real-world problems in the context of sustainable development? Which learning approaches help students engage with design thinking to understand a particular system, and also to start thinking about responsible solutions? Which approaches enable students to reflect on their own actions, as well as become aware of the importance of diverse stakeholder perspectives and how these play out in real-world contexts?

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Working together for better outcomes: Lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners

By Kit Macleod

kit-macleod
Kit Macleod (biography)

As a community of interdisciplinary practice we need to share our collective knowledge on how funders, researchers and wider research partners can work together for better outcomes to address pressing societal challenges.

Funding interdisciplinary research: improving practices and processes

Seven key challenges to funding interdisciplinary research include:

  1. No agreed criteria defining ‘excellence’ in interdisciplinary research.
  2. Poor agreement of the benefits and costs of interdisciplinary ways of working.
  3. No agreement on how much or what kind of additional funding support is required for interdisciplinary research.
  4. No consensus on terminology.
  5. No clearly delineated college of peers from which to select appropriate reviewers.
  6. Limited appropriate interdisciplinary peer review processes.
  7. Restrictions within funding organisations concerning budget allocations and support for interdisciplinary research.

A guidance note for research funders then suggests ways forward from the pre-call stage to evaluation of completed research projects.

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