Interdisciplinarity and synergy in collaborations

By Loet Leydesdorff

What is the difference between “interdisciplinarity” and “synergy?” Why does it matter? How can indicators of interdisciplinarity and synergy be conceptualized and defined mathematically? Can one measure interdisciplinarity and synergy?

Problem-solving often requires crossing boundaries, such as those between disciplines. However, interdisciplinarity is not an objective in itself, but a means for creating synergy. When policy-makers call for interdisciplinarity, they may mean synergy. Synergy means that the whole offers more possibilities than the sum of its parts. The measurement of synergy, however, requires a methodology very different from interdisciplinarity. In this blog post, I consider each of these measures in turn, the logic underpinning each of them, and I specify the definitions in mathematical terms.

Fifteen characteristics of complex social systems

By Hamilton Carvalho

What is it about complex social systems that keeps reproducing old problems, as well as adding new ones? How can public policy move away from what I call the Mencken Syndrome (in reference to a quotation from American journalist Henry Mencken) – that is, continually proposing clear and simple solutions to complex social problems – that are also wrong!

With this goal in mind, I have compiled a list of fifteen major characteristics of complex social systems based on the system dynamics and complexity sciences literatures, as well as my own research.

Incommensurability, plain difference and communication in interdisciplinary research

By Vincenzo Politi

Where does the term incommensurability come from? What is its relevance to interdisciplinarity? Is it more than plain difference? Does incommensurability need to be reconceptualized for interdisciplinarity?

Incommensurability: its origins and relevance to interdisciplinarity

‘Incommensurability’ is a term that philosophers of science have borrowed from mathematics. Two mathematical magnitudes are said to be incommensurable if their ratio cannot be expressed by a number which is an integer. For example, the radius and the circumference of a circle are incommensurable because their ratio is expressed by the irrational number π.

Interdisciplinarity and evil – Understanding incommensurability

By J. Britt Holbrook

Incommensurability is a recognized problem in interdisciplinary research. What is it? How can we understand it? And what can we do about it?

What is it?

Incommensurability is best illustrated by a real example. I once co-taught a class with a colleague from another discipline. Her discipline depends on empirical analysis of data sets, literally on counting things. I, on the other hand, am a philosopher. We don’t count. One day she said to our students, “If you don’t have an empirical element in what you’re doing, it’s not research.” I watched the students start nodding, paused for half a beat, and volunteered, “So, I’ve never done any research in my entire career.” “That’s right!” she replied, immediately, yet hesitating somewhere between a discovery and a joke.

Lessons from “real-world laboratories” about transdisciplinary projects, transformative research and participation

By Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

In Germany there has recently been a heated debate about the need for, and the justification of, so-called “transformative research”. At the same time, German funders are increasingly supporting research in “real-world laboratories” and these explicitly aim to bring about social change. We lead an accompanying research project (“Begleitforschung” in German) in a real-world laboratory program of research in Baden-Württemberg (see Schäpke et al., (2015) for more information). This has led us to reflect upon the relationship between transdisciplinary research and transformative research, and how this impacts on how we think about participation in research. We share some preliminary ideas here.

Non-certified experts, stakeholders, practitioners… What participants are called defines transdisciplinarity

By Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

In an actor-oriented understanding of transdisciplinary research, there are basically two types of actors: those in the academic system who ensure scientific rigor and who are responsible for project outcomes, usually called ‘researchers’ – and ‘the others’. ‘The others’ lacks precision and even a superficial review of the literature reveals multiple ways of describing them. We highlight a selection of these below (the emphasis in the quotations is ours).

What makes research transdisciplinary?

By Liz Clarke

What do we mean by transdisciplinarity and when can we say we are doing transdisciplinary research? There is a broad literature with a range of different meanings and perspectives. There is the focus on real-world problems with multiple stakeholders in the “life-world”, and a sense of throwing open the doors of academia to transcend disciplinary boundaries to address and solve complex problems. But when it comes to the practicalities of work in the field, there is often uncertainty and even disagreement about what is and isn’t transdisciplinarity.

Let me give an example.

Sharing mental models is critical for interdisciplinary collaboration

By Jen Badham and Gabriele Bammer

What is a mental model? How do mental models influence interdisciplinary collaboration? What processes can help tease out differences in mental models?

Mental models

Let’s start with mental models. What does the word ‘chair’ mean to you? Do you have an image of a chair, perhaps a wooden chair with four legs and a back, an office chair with wheels, or possibly a comfortable lounge chair from which you watch television?

Team science glossary

By Sawsan Khuri and Stefan Wuchty

As team science gains momentum, we present this glossary to standardize definitions for the most frequently used terms and phrases in the science of team science literature, and to serve as a reference point for newcomers to the field. Source material is provided where possible.

Four simple questions for navigating the knowledge mobilisation swamp

By Vicky Ward

How can knowledge mobilisers – people who move knowledge into action – make sense of diverse definitions, navigate through the fragmented literature and better describe their work? It all starts with a few simple questions…

Over the past 15-20 years, research and practical activity focusing on how knowledge can be better shared and used has grown at what sometimes seems like an alarming rate. For many, the diverse range of literature, terminology, models and tools can seem overwhelming and bewildering. In 2010, for example, McKibbon and colleagues identified 100 different terms used to describe the activities and processes involved in linking knowledge and practice (McKibbon et al., 2010). And in 2014 Huw Davies and colleagues found 71 substantial reviews of research literature on this topic across health, social care and education (Davies et al., 2015).

Integration – Part 2: The “how”

By Julie Thompson Klein

The “how” of integration focuses on pragmatics of process, with emphasis on methods. Toward that end, following the part 1 blog post on the “what” of integration, this blog post presents insights from major resources, with emphasis on collaborative research by teams.

Some widely used methods are well-known theories, for example general systems. Others are practiced in particular domains, such as integrated environmental assessment. Some utilize technologies, for example computer synthesis of data. And others, such as dialogue methods, target communication processes.

Integration – Part 1: The “what”

By Julie Thompson Klein

Integration lies at the heart of inter- and transdisciplinarity. Klein & Newell (1996) call it the “acid test” of interdisciplinarity, and Pohl, van Kerkhoff, Hirsch Hadorn, & Bammer (2008) consider it “the core methodology underpinning the transdisciplinary research process.”

What exactly, though, is integration?

This blog post answers that question while identifying key resources.