Learning from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research ‘failures’

By Dena Fam and Michael O’Rourke

Dena Fam
Dena Fam (biography)

What makes interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research challenging? What can go wrong and lead to failure? What has your experience been?

Modes of research that involve the integration of different perspectives, such as interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, are notoriously challenging for a host of reasons. Interdisciplinary research requires the combination of insights from different academic disciplines and it is common that these:

  • bear the stamp of different epistemologies; and,
  • involve different types of data collected using different methods in the service of different explanations.

Read moreLearning from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research ‘failures’

Introducing interdisciplinary postgraduate degrees? Seven meta-considerations

By Dena Fam, Scott Kelly, Tania Leimbach, Lesley Hitchens and Michelle Callen

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Dena Fam (biography)

What is required to plan, introduce and standardize interdisciplinary learning in higher education?

In a two-year process at the University of Technology Sydney we identified seven meta-considerations (Fam et al., 2018). These are based on a literature review of best practice of interdisciplinary programs internationally, as well as widespread consultation and engagement across the university. Each meta-consideration is illustrated by a word cloud and a key quotation from our consultations.

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The university campus as a transdisciplinary living laboratory

By Dena Fam, Abby Mellick Lopes, Alexandra Crosby and Katie Ross

How can transdisciplinary educators help students reflexively understand their position in the field of research? Often this means giving students the opportunity to go beyond being observers of social reality to experience themselves as potential agents of change.

To enable this opportunity, we developed a model for a ‘Transdisciplinary Living Lab’ (Fam et al., forthcoming). This builds on the concept of a collaborative test bed of innovative approaches to a problem or situation occurring in a ‘living’ social environment where end-users are involved. For us, the social environment is the university campus. We involved two universities in developing this model – the University of Technology Sydney and Western Sydney University. We aimed to help students explore food waste management systems on campus and to consider where the interventions they designed were situated within global concerns, planetary boundaries and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Transdisciplinary Living Lab was designed and delivered in three largely distinct, yet iterative phases, scaling from individual experiences to a global problem context. These phases of the living lab, which work to integrate personal and professional knowledge and practice, are also shown in the figure below:

1. Entering the living lab was the phase where students were introduced to collaborative teamwork processes, expectations of joint problem formulation and critical reflection on their own position within the system being explored: ‘digging where they stand’. This meant helping students consider their relationships with the food waste system as consumers of food and producers of waste, as well as their potential impact as designers of interventions in that system.

2. Transdisciplinary learning was the second phase where students were introduced to the concept of research as a process of system intervention, as well as skills for co-producing and integrating knowledge in collaboration with diverse partners in the food system. For the Transdisciplinary Living Lab at the University of Technology Sydney this meant listening to, questioning and collaborating with relevant stakeholders in the system to investigate historical and current approaches to the issue, and exploring precedents for dealing with food waste in other parts of the world. Central to this phase was ensuring the sharing of knowledge among the students as it was produced. This meant organising a publically accessible class blog that can be viewed at https://wealthfromwaste.wordpress.com/ and weekly debriefs and discussions on insights gained.

Dena Fam (biography)

Abby Mellick Lopes (biography)

Alexandra Crosby (biography)

Katie Ross (biography)

Read moreThe university campus as a transdisciplinary living laboratory

Doing a transdisciplinary PhD? Four tips to convince the examiners about your data

By Jane Palmer, Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Jenny Kent

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1. Jane Palmer (biography)
2. Dena Fam (biography)
3. Tanzi Smith (biography)
4. Jenny Kent (biography)

How can research writing best be crafted to present transdisciplinarity? How can doctoral candidates effectively communicate to examiners a clear understanding of ‘data’, what it is and how the thesis uses it convincingly?

The authors have all recently completed transdisciplinary doctorates in the field of sustainable futures and use this experience to highlight the challenges of crafting a convincing piece of research writing that also makes claims of transdisciplinarity (Palmer et al., 2018). We propose four strategies for working with data convincingly when undertaking transdisciplinary doctoral research.

Read moreDoing a transdisciplinary PhD? Four tips to convince the examiners about your data

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,

cordell
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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Designing for impact in transdisciplinary research

By Cynthia Mitchell, Dena Fam and Dana Cordell

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Cynthia Mitchell (biography)

Starting with richly articulated pictures of where we would like to be at some defined point in the future has powerful consequences for any human endeavour. How can we use such “Outcome Spaces” to guide the conception, design, implementation, and evaluation of transdisciplinary research?

Our Outcome Spaces Framework (Mitchell et al., 2017) considers three essential impacts:

(1) improving the situation,
(2) generating relevant stocks and flows of knowledge, and
(3) mutual and transformational learning by the researcher/s and involved participants.

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Supporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?

By Tanja Golja and Dena Fam

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Tanja Golja’s biography
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Dena Fam (biography)

In their 2013 report on the significance of transdisciplinary approaches to advance scientific discovery and address formidable societal challenges (PDF 700KB), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) put out a call to “expand education paradigms to model transdisciplinary approaches” (p. xiii). Ought we be considering whether transdisciplinary approaches might reconfigure education paradigms, and if so, why?

Read moreSupporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?