What lessons and challenges about institutionalising interdisciplinarity can be systematized from experiences in Latin American universities?
We analyzed three organizational structures in three different countries to find common challenges and lessons learned that transcend national contexts and the particularities of individual universities. The three case studies are located in:
Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina. The Argentinian center (1986 – 2003) was created in a top-down manner without participation of the academic community, and its relative novelty in organizational terms was also a cause of its instability and later closure.
Universidad de la República in Uruguay. The Uruguayan case, started in 2008, shows an innovative experience in organizational terms based on a highly interactive and participatory process.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. The Mexican initiative, which began in 1986, shows a center with a network structure in organizational terms where the focus was redefined over time.
All three centers showed an evolutionary path in which they simultaneously tried to adapt to the characteristics of the production of interdisciplinary knowledge and to the culture of the host institutions. Flexibility in this evolution seems to be a necessary condition for survival.
We found the following common lessons:
There is a bias in disciplinary-based academic assessment criteria, which does not consider the specific characteristics of interdisciplinary research and still punishes researchers who engage in collaborative research with partners outside academia. Specific criteria and assessment committees designed by interdisciplinary researchers are needed.
Interdisciplinary research requires long periods of preparation, mainly due to the collaborative dynamics, which also makes it necessary to revise assessment criteria.
Assessment committees should be made up of academic professionals specialized in interdisciplinary topics rather than a group of individuals representing different disciplines.
There is a need to explore new funding sources, especially external funds. So far, the main source of funding is still each national state.
There is also an urgency to promote academic publication to enhance the dissemination of interdisciplinary research and studies.