How is transformative knowledge ‘co-produced’?

By Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall

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Andy Stirling (biography)

It’s often said that knowledge to tackle big problems in the world – food, water, climate, energy, biodiversity, disease and war – has to be ‘co-produced’. Tackling these problems is not just about solving ‘grand challenges’ with big solutions, it’s also about grappling with the underlying causal social and political drivers. But what does co-production actually mean, and how can it help to create knowledge that leads to real transformation?

Here’s how we at the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre approach this challenge of co-production.

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Overcoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments

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Machiel Keestra (biography)

By Machiel Keestra

How can we adequately prepare and train students to navigate transdisciplinary environments? How can we develop hybrid spaces in our universities that are suitable for transdisciplinary education?

These questions were considered by a plenary panel, which I organised and chaired at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2017 at Leuphana University, Germany. Three major educational requirements were identified:

  • long-term collaborations with businesses, as well as non-governmental, governmental and community organisations
  • teaching particular dispositions and competencies
  • preparing students for intercultural endeavours.

Read moreOvercoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments

Epistemological obstacles to interdisciplinary research

By Evelyn Brister

evelyn-brister
Evelyn Brister (biography)

What causes interdisciplinary collaborations to default to the standard frameworks and methods of a single discipline, leaving collaborators feeling like they aren’t being taken seriously, or that what they’ve brought to the project has been left on the table, ignored and underappreciated?

Sometimes it is miscommunication, but sometimes it is that collaborators disagree. And sometimes disagreements are both fundamental and intractable.

Often, these disagreements can be traced back to different epistemological frameworks. Epistemological frameworks are beliefs about how particular disciplines conceive of what it is they investigate, how to investigate it, what counts as sufficient evidence, and why the knowledge they produce matters.

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Two audiences and five aims of action researchers

By Hilary Bradbury

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Hilary Bradbury (biography)

Do action researchers have something to offer to the contemporary and urgent question of how to respond to complex real-world problems? I think so.

Action researchers, often working in inter-disciplinary settings, hold in mind that technical, practical and emancipatory goals of action research require us to develop facility in communicating with two audiences: the ‘local’ practitioners and the ‘cosmopolitan’ community of scholars.

Let’s start with the latter. The cosmopolitans are motivated by the question of what, if anything, can be contributed to what scholars already know. As a result these academic colleagues usually privilege the written medium exclusively. The local audience, however, is not served when action researchers write a manuscript intended for scholarly peers!

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Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure

By Andrew Campbell

andrew-campbell
Andrew Campbell (biography)

When we think of research infrastructure, it is easy to associate astronomers with telescopes, oceanographers with research vessels and physicists with particle accelerators.

But what sort of research infrastructure (if any) do we need in order to do more effective multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research on big, complex, ‘wicked’ challenges like climate change or food security?

Some eminent colleagues and I argue in a new paper (Baron et al., 2017) that the answers include:

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Improving mutual consultation among key stakeholders to optimize the use of research evidence

By Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

Processes to support the uptake of research evidence call for each of the key stakeholders to consider the challenges faced by other key stakeholders in making good use of research evidence. When stakeholders have the opportunity to consider perspectives other than their own, they will generally have a broader understanding of the problem space, and, in turn a greater commitment to co-creating prototypes for improving research translation.

Let’s consider a real world example in New York City’s public child welfare system.

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Learning from Google about inter- and transdisciplinary leadership

By Janet G. Hering

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Janet G. Hering (biography)

Like most engineers, the Google leadership had assumed that the leader of an engineering team must be at least as competent technically as the members of the team. As Laszlo Bock described in his 2015 book Work Rules!, however, a data-driven assessment disproved this assumption. The counter-intuitive result of “Project Oxygen” was that having “important technical skills that help advise the team” only ranked number eight in the list of key attributes differentiating the most from the least effective managers.

This is very good news for leaders of inter- and transdisciplinary synthesis projects since it’s highly unlikely that these leaders could have all the subject expertise relevant to their projects. If subject expertise is not the most important characteristic of leadership, then what kind of expertise should leaders have and what kind of roles do they play? How important are leaders and leadership in such synthesis projects?

Read moreLearning from Google about inter- and transdisciplinary leadership

Ten lessons from a transdisciplinary PhD program in sustainable development

By Marianne Penker

marianne-penker
Marianne Penker (biography)

Should a doctoral student specialise in transdisciplinary sustainable development research? What are the opportunities and challenges associated with undertaking a program that requires research integration and implementation?

At the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna in Austria, teams of PhD-students and academic supervisors collaborated with representatives from regions, cities, public authorities, businesses or civil society to solve pressing and often wicked sustainability problems. We learnt the following ten lessons.

Read moreTen lessons from a transdisciplinary PhD program in sustainable development

Values, confidence, and time: What researchers should consider when engaging with civil society organisations

By William L. Allen

william-allen
William L. Allen (biography)

When researchers want to engage or work with groups outside universities—especially civil society organisations—what should they consider as part of this process?

Civil society comprises organisations—large and small—that are outside of the public and private sectors. These include non-governmental organisations, charities, or voluntary groups.

Three lessons emerged from asking civil society organisations what they would tell academics who want to work with them:

Read moreValues, confidence, and time: What researchers should consider when engaging with civil society organisations

Material resources for transdisciplinary research

By Chris Riedy

chris-riedy
Chris Riedy (biography)

What materials are needed to support the conduct of transdisciplinary research?

Transdisciplinary research is a bundle of interwoven social practices taking different forms in different contexts. As highlighted in one prominent version of social practice theory (Shove et al., 2012: 14), social practice has three elements:

  • Materials – ‘including things, technologies, tangible physical entities, and the stuff of which objects are made’
  • Competences – ‘which encompasses skill, know-how and technique’
  • Meanings – ‘in which we include symbolic meanings, ideas and aspirations’.

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Collaboration, difference and busyness

By Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are the ingredients of successful research collaboration? How can we make collaboration work when we are all getting busier?

One of the best guides to success in collaborative team work was produced by Michelle Bennett, Howard Gadlin and Samantha Levine-Findlay in 2010. Built on the experience of researchers at the US National Institutes of Health, they explored: preparing for collaboration, selecting team members, fostering trust, sharing credit, handling conflict and more.

An additional way of thinking about collaboration that I have found useful (Bammer 2008) is to consider it as a process of harnessing and managing differences.

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