CoNavigator: Hands-on interdisciplinary problem solving

Community member post by Katrine Lindvig, Line Hillersdal and David Earle

How can we resolve the stark disparity between theoretical knowledge about interdisciplinary approaches and practical applications? How can we get from written guidelines to actual practices, especially taking into account the contextual nature of knowledge production; not least when the collaborating partners come from different disciplinary fields with diverse expectations and concerns?

For the past few years, we have been developing ways in which academic theory and physical interactions can be combined. The result is CoNavigator – a hands-on, 3-dimensional and gamified tool which can be used:

  • for learning purposes in educational settings
  • as a fast-tracking tool for interdisciplinary problem solving.

CoNavigator is a tool which allows groups to collaborate on a 3-dimensional visualisation of the interdisciplinary topography of a given field or theme. It addresses the contextual and local circumstances and the unique combinations of members in collaborative teams. CoNavigator is therefore short for both Context Navigation and Collaboration Navigation. The process of applying the tool takes around 3 hours.

Using CoNavigator

CoNavigator is composed of writable tiles and cubes to enable rapid, collaborative visualisation, as shown in the first figure below. The tactile nature of the tool is designed to encourage collaboration and negotiation over a series of defined steps.

Making the Tacit Visible and Tangible

Each participant makes a personal tool swatch. By explaining their skills to a person with a completely different background, the participant is forced to re-evaluate, re-formulate, and translate skills in a way that increases their own disciplinary awareness. Each competency that is identified is written onto a separate tool swatch.

Katrine Lindvig (biography)

Line Hillersdal (biography)

David Earle (biography)

Following this, the participants create elements to go in a joint map of a particular topic. Rather than specifying challenges and problems, participants are encouraged to identify themes and interests, so as not to direct or narrow down the scope too early in the process. Each participant is encouraged to identify the key areas of the map from their perspective. Each point is written (or drawn) onto a single tile as shown in the two figures below.

Negotiating and Organizing a Context

Once the individual tiles are created (as many as are needed), the group must negotiate how each tile will be positioned within a collaborative map. During this process the tiles begin to cluster into small or bigger areas, reflecting the specific interests of the group. The emphasis is on themes and areas to be explored and navigated. The individual tiles of the participants are likely to carry themes, points and interests that are very different in terms of details and coverage, which must then also be taken into consideration when constructing the joint map.


The last step challenges the participants to connect to and navigate through themes and interests of the other participants. The new infrastructures created are then related to each participant’s individual tool swatch developed at the beginning of the session. Each participant then assesses where and how singular competencies can be used to deal with the newly developed infrastructure. An important point at this stage is to encourage participants to explore connections and arguments which are open-ended, instead of leading them towards a common goal, project or solution.

The topographies are easy to photograph for later use, while each participant takes with them their individual tool-swatch, which can help them to identify and contextualise their role in future collaborations.


CoNavigator was particularly inspired by a two day workshop format (Braintrust Labs), especially the idea of a Visual Lingua Franca, defined as visualisation used systematically to make communication possible between people not sharing the same discipline. Furthermore a number of students and groups of colleagues have helped us test the tool in various rounds.

Do you have experience with this or other tools to share? What do you think the biggest challenges are in interdisciplinary collaboration and how do you think this tool could help address them?

CoNavigator is composed of writable tiles and cubes to enable rapid, collaborative visualisation (copyright: David Earle)


Creating a joint map of a particular topic (copyright: David Earle)

To find out more more:
Lindvig, K., Hillersdal, L. and Earle, D. (2017). Interdisciplinary tool helps fast-track interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. Integrative Pathways, 39, 2: 3-5. Online: (PDF 2.3MB)

Biography: Katrine Lindvig PhD is an educational ethnographer at the Department of Science Education, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She specialises in interdisciplinary education, especially the linkages between interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary teaching practices.

Biography: Line Hillersdal PhD is a social anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She specialises in interdisciplinary research collaboration and is particularly involved in how research objects are configured in collaborative practices.

Biography: David Earle is a concept developer and partner at Braintrust, an academic think tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He develops visual and tactile tools and methods to help students learn to navigate through their academic knowledge, and to work more effectively in multi- and interdisciplinary teams.

Two lessons for early involvement of stakeholders in research

Community member post by Obasanjo Oyedele, Martin Atela and Ayo Ojebode

Obasanjo Oyedele (biography)

A fundamental principle for conducting research that is easily put to use by stakeholders is to involve them in the research process as early as possible. But how can the inertia and lack of interest that stakeholders often have at this stage be overcome?

We provide two lessons from our experience of involving stakeholders as early as the research launch. Continue reading

A new boundary object to promote researcher engagement with policy makers / Un nuevo objeto frontera para promover la colaboración de los investigadores con los tomadores de decisiones

Community member post by María D. López Rodríguez

María D. López Rodríguez (biography)

A Spanish version of this post is available

Can boundary objects be designed to help researchers and decision makers to interact more effectively? How can the socio-political setting – which will affect decisions made – be reflected in the boundary objects?

Here I describe a new context-specific boundary object to promote decision making based on scientific evidence. But first I provide a brief introduction to boundary objects.

What is a ‘boundary object’?

In transdisciplinary research, employing a ‘boundary object’ is a widely used method to facilitate communication and understanding among stakeholder groups with different epistemologies. Boundary objects are abstract tools adaptable to different perspectives and across knowledge domains to serve as a means of symbolic communication. Continue reading

What can action research and transdisciplinarity learn from each other?

Community member post by Danilo R. Streck

Danilo R. Streck (biography)

A man raises his hand and brings up the following issue: “Our community is constantly affected by terrible floods that not only destroy our houses, but are the cause of sicknesses of our children.” This statement—in the midst of a participatory budget meeting in South Brazil—raised issues concerning the deforestation of riverbanks, the deficient sewage system, contested land ownership and occupation, among others.

Our research group is primarily interested in citizenship education and in supporting it through studying what makes learning possible (pedagogical mediation) within discussions about the allocation of resources for the public budget. Stories like this one remind us of the limits of a simplistic approach to understanding citizenship. In this case, citizenship and citizenship education was clearly related to health, to ecology, to urban planning, to farming, among other fields of acting and knowing.

Action research, broadly understood as collective (self) reflection in action within situations that one wants to change, is intrinsically an exercise of disciplinary transgressions. Continue reading

Sharing integrated modelling practices – Part 2: How to use “patterns”?

Community member post by Sondoss Elsawah and Joseph Guillaume

Sondoss Elsawah (biography)

In part 1 of our blog posts on why use patterns, we argued for making unstated, tacit knowledge about integrated modelling practices explicit by identifying patterns, which link solutions to specific problems and their context. We emphasised the importance of differentiating the underlying concept of a pattern and a pattern artefact – the specific form in which the pattern is explicitly described. Continue reading

Sharing integrated modelling practices – Part 1: Why use “patterns”?

Community member post by Sondoss Elsawah and Joseph Guillaume

Sondoss Elsawah (biography)

How can modellers share the tacit knowledge that accumulates over years of practice?

In this blog post we introduce the concept of patterns and make the case for why patterns are a good candidate for transmitting the ‘know-how’ knowledge about modelling practices. We address the question of how to use patterns in a second blog post. Continue reading