What are the steps involved in co-producing knowledge in transdisciplinary research? What tools are available to help knowledge co-production and for what purpose should they be used?
Based on our experiences with the td-net (Network for Transdisciplinary Research) toolbox, we discuss how knowledge co-production can be organized along an ideal type of a transdisciplinary research process.
Phases and key issues of co-production
In developing the td-net toolbox, we used the following four phases of knowledge co-production, which require an iterative, rather than linear, approach:
Integration experts and expertise are crucial for realising the full potential of inter- and transdisciplinary research. However, the expertise of those who lead integration is poorly recognized in the current academic system and these academics often experience a range of impediments to their careers. What can be done to recognise integration experts and expertise and to support the careers of such experts?
We define integration experts as specialists “who lead, administer, manage, monitor, assess, accompany, and/or advise others on integration” in order to achieve the full potential of inter- and transdisciplinary research (Hoffmann et al. 2022).
This i2Insights contribution presents the results of a pilot workshop held in Aeschiried, a mountain village in Switzerland, in February 2023 to develop a theory of change focused on Germany and Switzerland to achieve the following:
What are some effective approaches for developing causal maps of systems in participatory ways? How do different approaches relate to each other and what are the ways in which systems maps can be useful?
Here we focus on seven system mapping methods, described briefly in alphabetical order.
1. Bayesian Belief Networks: a network of variables representing their conditional dependencies (ie., the likelihood of the variable taking different states depending on the states of the variables that influence them). The networks follow a strict acyclic structure (ie., no feedbacks), and nodes tend to be restricted to maximum two incoming arrows. These maps are analysed using the conditional probabilities to compute the potential impact of changes to certain variables, or the influence of certain variables given an observed outcome.
By Josefa Kny, Sabine Hoffmann, Emilia Nagy and Martina Schäfer
What are key functions of theory of change? For what purposes can we use theory of change in inter- and transdisciplinary research?
A theory of change maps the assumed relationships between activities and short-, medium- and long-term changes of an intervention, program or project. It makes assumptions about why and how such changes occur transparent. Theory of change approaches have their origins in theory-based evaluation and Paulo Freire’s theory of societal change (Freire, 1970) and have predominantly been used in development research and practice since the late 1990s.
In general, theory of change can be understood as a process and a product, as described by Heléne Clarke in her i2Insights contribution Theory of Change in a nutshell. In the process, a group of involved actors develop their shared understanding of how the program, project or intervention will bring about a desired change. The product is a narrative and/or visualisation which illustrates how such change will be achieved.
Although theory of change was not developed for inter- and transdisciplinary research, both the process and the product are relevant for such investigations.
How can the integration required in large inter- and transdisciplinary programs be effectively led? What challenges do leaders of integration in such programs face and how can they address them? What are the particular challenges in using a theory of change as an integrative tool?
We describe five key challenges that we encountered when leading the integration for a large 10-year inter- and transdisciplinary research program, which explored novel non-grid water and sanitation systems that can function as comparable alternatives to conventional large network-based systems. We experienced these challenges when applying the tool Theory of Change to facilitate communication, collaboration and integration among the team members (for more on theory of change see the i2Insights contribution by Heléne Clark). We also share the strategies we employed to address these challenges. The lessons we developed are likely to be applicable to other inter- and transdisciplinary research programs.
How can the formative, ie. process, evaluation of transdisciplinary research projects best incorporate the likely link between process and outcomes in such research? What are some useful approaches for developing an effective evaluation plan with a lens of impact orientation?
We describe how to systematically formulate criteria and indicators for the evaluation of transdisciplinary projects by combining:
impactful research practices (Lux et al., 2019)
impact heuristics (Schäfer et al., 2021)
theory-of-change method (Belcher et al., 2019).
The combination of these approaches provides a strong foundation for impact orientation in all project phases.
How can combining frameworks help plan a research implementation process? What specific contributions can different frameworks make?
In our research with industry, we found combining three frameworks to be an effective way to get handles on a complex implementation landscape and to design the necessary steps to systematically work our way through it. The frameworks we found useful were: a logic model, a pathway to impact and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, which we adapted to our context.
We provide four figures to show how we used each framework and briefly describe the benefits we derived from each of them. Although fully understanding the detail in the figures requires familiarity with the specifics of our research, we trust the figures provide insight into how each framework was used.
How can you plan to make change happen or evaluate the effectiveness of actions you took? How can you link desired long-term goals with all the conditions that must be in place? How can you map out a step-by-step pathway that highlights your assumptions and expectations?
Theory of Change (ToC) is a graphic and narrative explanation of how and why a change process is expected to happen in a particular context.
At its heart, Theory of Change spells out initiative or program logic. It defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify changes thought to be necessary to the goal that need to happen earlier (preconditions).
Theory of Change purports to explain change process in diagrammatically modeling all the causal linkages in an initiative, ie., its shorter-term, intermediate, and longer-term outcomes.