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.

Three tasks for transdisciplinary bridge builders

Community member post by Roderick J. Lawrence

Roderick J. Lawrence (biography)

Human groups and societies have built many kinds of bridges for centuries. Since the 19th century, engineers have designed complex physical structures that were intended to serve one or more purposes in precise situations. In essence, the construction of a bridge is meant to join two places together. What may appear as a mundane functional structure is built only after numerous decisions have been made about its appearance, cost, functions, location and structure. Will a bridge serve only as a link and passage, or will it serve other functions?

In discussing three things the transdisciplinary research community can do to build bridges, I use “building bridges” as a metaphor. I discuss a bridge as a human-made artefact that is attributed meaningful form. It is created intentionally for one or more purposes. Continue reading

Ten communication tips for translational scientists

Community member post by Sunshine Menezes

Sunshine Menezes (biography)

As someone who works with scientists, journalists, advocates, regulators, and other types of communication practitioners, I see the need for translational scientists who can navigate productive, start-to-finish collaborations between such groups on a daily basis.

This translation involves the use of new, more integrated approaches toward scientific work to confront wicked environmental problems society faces.

In spite of this need, cross-boundary communication poses a major stumbling block for many researchers. Science communication requires engagement with potential beneficiaries, not just a one-way transfer of information.

Effective communication is a key component of translational science, requiring both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

To that end, I offer ten tips for translational scientists seeking more effective communication: Continue reading

What makes a translational ecologist? Part 3: Dispositional attributes

Community member post by the Translational Ecology Group 

Translational Ecology Group (participants)


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. Continue reading