Eleven success factors for transdisciplinary real-world labs

By Niko Schäpke, Oskar Marg, Matthias Bergmann, Franziska Stelzer and Daniel J. Lang

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1. Niko Schäpke; 2. Oskar Marg; 3. Matthias Bergmann; 4. Franziska Stelzer; 5. Daniel Lang (biographies)

What is required for transdisciplinary real-world laboratories (labs) to successfully tackle and achieve long-term societal change? How can they make the change process transferable? What is required of the societal and scientific actors?

We discuss eleven success factors to facilitate successful transdisciplinary collaboration and to achieve desired societal effects. These are based on an accompanying research project, which supported and observed several real-world labs, aiming to develop overarching insights on methods and success factors. The accompanying research project also provided consultancy to strengthen the implementation activities of the real-world labs and supported the networking of the labs, including with labs in other countries.

The factors presented below should be seen as generic recommendations to increase the likelihood of success. As each lab has a unique character, factors should be considered, deliberated and addressed for each lab on an individual basis.

Success factor 1: Find the right balance between scientific and societal goals

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Eight ways research institutes enable interdisciplinary research

By Paul Bolger

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Paul Bolger (biography)

One of the most substantial structural changes and investments to support interdisciplinarity within universities has been the widespread establishment of research institutes. Many have made the pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration a central goal in their research mission. Biancani and colleagues (2014) have likened research institutes to a semi-formal organisation occupying a plane between the formal university and informal research teams. Membership of the semi-formal organisation is voluntary and researchers and groups can flexibly come together for short or long periods and depart when no longer needed.

How do these entities establish collaborative communities, and create the conditions necessary for effective interdisciplinary research?

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Investing in change through research funding

By Petra Lundgren

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Petra Lundgren (biography)

How do funders think about investing in research that is intended to lead to change?

This blog post is written from the perspective of a research funder. More specifically it is based on reflections and lessons learned during five years managing and directing strategic research programs at a not-for-profit foundation, investing in science that would benefit the health and resilience of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Our funding mandate was to include research in a larger body of work towards a broader vision of change. This therefore provided the basis of my work and helped me shape the view that the funder has a big and critical role to play.

In the research that my organisation funded, it was important to both define and deliver impact beyond that of classic academic achievement.

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Five organizational features for successful interdisciplinary research

By Jessica Blythe and Chris Cvitanovic

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1. Jessica Blythe (biography)
2. Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

How can significant challenges associated with doing interdisciplinary research be overcome? What are the best ways to build institutional capacity and structures that support interdisciplinary research?

We have identified five key organizational features that enable successful interdisciplinary research. These are based on an evaluation of the Centre for Marine Socioecology in Tasmania, Australia, which brings together disciplinary expertise in physics, law, economics, biology, sociology and governance. We obtained perspectives across all disciplines and career stages from PhD students to the leadership team.

The five organizational features, also shown in the figure below, are:

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Effectively leading interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations

By Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations

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Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations details (biographies)

What qualities and skills do leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need?

Leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need the qualities that make any leader successful—creativity, humility, open-mindedness, long-term vision, and being a team player. In addition, we identified eight leadership attributes that are specific to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions and that help leaders to be transformative with real world impacts. Leaders need to cultivate:

  1. vision beyond the status quo
  2. collaborative leadership
  3. partnerships
  4. shared culture
  5. communications with multiple audiences
  6. appropriate monitoring and evaluation
  7. perseverance
  8. resources for success.

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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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Decentering academia through critical unlearning in transdisciplinary knowledge production / Descentralizando la academia a través del des- aprendizaje crítico en la producción de conocimiento transdiciplinario

By Gabriela Alonso-Yanez, Lily House-Peters and Martin Garcia Cartagena

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Gabriela Alonso-Yanez (biography)

A Spanish version of this post is available

How can academic researchers working in transdisciplinary teams establish genuine collaborations with people who do not work in academia? How can they overcome the limitations of their discipline-based training, especially assigning value and hierarchy to specialized forms of knowledge production that privileges certain methodologies and epistemologies over others?

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Lily House-Peters (biography)

We argue that to truly engage in collaborative work, academics need to participate in deliberate processes of critical unlearning that enable the decentering of academia in the processes and politics of transdisciplinary knowledge production and knowledge translation. What we mean by this is that academics have to be willing to acknowledge, reflect upon, and intentionally discard conventional avenues of designing and conducting research activities in order to be authentically open to other ways of exploring questions about the world in collaboration with diverse groups of social actors.

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How to support research consortia

By Bruce Currie-Alder and Georgina Cundill Kemp

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1. Bruce Currie-Alder (biography)
2. Georgina Cundill Kemp (biography)

A research consortium is a model of collaboration that brings together multiple institutions that are otherwise independent from one another to address a common set of questions using a defined structure and governance model. Increasingly consortia are also being joined in cross-consortia networks. How can connections be made across the institutions in individual consortia, as well as in cross-consortia networks, to ensure that such collaborations are more than the sum of their parts?

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Funding transformative research: 10 key stages

By Flurina Schneider

Flurina Schneider (biography)

How can funding programmes maximize the potential of transformative research that seeks to make a real difference? How can funders support a more hands-on approach to societal challenges such as ecological crises? A group of Swiss transdisciplinary researchers and funding-agency staff identified 10 overlapping stages and their key ingredients. The stages are also described in the figure below.

1. Preparation of the funding programme.
From the start, funding programme leaders should seek dialogue with all those concerned with the societal challenge, including decision-makers and affected communities.

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Maximizing use of research evidence – how can funders help?

By Bev Holmes

Bev Holmes (biography)

What is the role of funders in maximizing the use of research evidence?

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is actively considering this question. An important influence on the Foundation’s thinking is the 2014 Lancet special issue Research: Increasing Value, Reducing Waste, which explores roles for funders, regulators, journals, academic institutions and researchers. Funders have a part to play in each of the five recommendations made in the special issue and these are reviewed first. Also examined is an additional area where funders have a role, namely creating the conditions for effective knowledge translation.

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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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Institutionalising interdisciplinarity: Lessons from Latin America / Institucionalizar la interdisciplina: Lecciones desde América Latina

By Bianca Vienni Baptista, Federico Vasen and Juan Carlos Villa Soto

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1. Bianca Vienni Baptista (biography)
2. Federico Vasen (biography)
3. Juan Carlos Villa Soto (biography)

A Spanish version of this post is available

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.

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