Six lessons from students about transdisciplinary learning

By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch

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1. Irina Dallo (biography)
2. Jan Freihardt (biography)
3. Juanita von Rothkirch (biography)

What is an effective way of providing students with practical experience in stakeholder engagement? How can students learn to communicate and engage with community members on a transdisciplinary project, as well as how to create a space for those community members to reflect on their daily lives through interactions and discussions with the student outsiders? What makes it possible for students to broaden their horizons and to acquire new competences and skills?

We present our reflections on how the Winter School 2020 “Science meets Practice” run by ETH Zürich successfully contributed to our transdisciplinary learning process. We suggest there are six key lessons for those who want to design a successful course.

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Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence

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Roderick Lawrence (biography)

What do we mean by “scaffolding” and how is it used in transdisciplinary research?

Scaffolding is a metaphor transferred from building construction and used in pedagogy and teaching methods since the 1970s to assist learning processes. This metaphor has also been applied to multi-stakeholder processes that require collective decision making about complex societal challenges including conflictual situations. In this context scaffolding is used in deliberative processes, identifying those constituents that require facilitation, and selecting the appropriate methods and tools to achieve desired outcomes.

Scaffolding is increasingly recognized as necessary to assist bridge building between people, especially in transdisciplinary research and project implementation about complex situations and persistent problems that have no simple solutions.

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Valuing diversity: The good, the original and the outsider

By Frédéric Darbellay

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Frédéric Darbellay (biography)

Stay in the norm, transform it or transgress it? If many researchers and teachers are comfortable in their disciplinary fold and providing good and loyal service to a well-defined epistemic community, more atypical profiles are also emerging, contributing to inter- and trans- disciplinary diversity.

I explore three complementary figures likely to cover the spectrum going from a good and respectable disciplinary worker (the Good) to the more disturbing figure of the Outsider, with the Original in between.

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How can co-labouring improve transdisciplinary research?

By Robert Pijpers and Sabine Luning

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1. Robert Pijpers (biography)
2. Sabine Luning (biography)

What do we mean by co-labouring? What practices does it involve? How can it enhance interactions among researchers and key stakeholders in transdisciplinary research?

Defining co-labouring

Choosing the notion of ‘co-labouring’ in our transdisciplinary project stems from an awareness that creating alternative perspectives, eg., on sustainable futures for mining, is a complex endeavor. Ideas of researchers wanting to give voice to unheard groups at the margin are too often based on simple models of translation. These assumptions underestimate what gets lost in translation, or the gaps in understandings between different groups of stakeholders.

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Choosing a suitable transdisciplinary research framework

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are some of the key frameworks that can be used for transdisciplinary research? What are their particular strengths? How can you choose one that’s most suitable for your transdisciplinary project?

The nine frameworks described here were highlighted in a series for which I was the commissioning editor. The series was published in the scientific journal GAIA: Ecological Perspectives in Science and Society between mid-2017 and end-2019.

Choosing among them is not a matter of right or wrong, but of each being more or less helpful for a particular problem in a particular context.

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Providing a richer assessment of research influence and impact

By Gabriele Bammer

author - gabriele bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

How can we affirm, value and capitalise on the unique strengths that each individual brings to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research? In particular, how can we capture diversity across individuals, as well as the richness and distinctness of each individual’s influence and impact?

In the course of writing ten reflective narratives (nine single-authored and one co-authored), eleven of us stumbled on a technique that we think could have broader utility in assessing influence and impact, especially in research but also in education (Bammer et al., 2019).

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Transdisciplinary action research: A guiding framework for collaboration

By Steven Lam, Michelle Thompson, Kathleen Johnson, Cameron Fioret and Sarah Hargreaves

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Steven Lam (biography)

How can graduate students work productively with each other and community partners? Many researchers and practitioners are engaging in transdisciplinarity, yet there is surprisingly little critical reflection about the processes and outcomes of transdisciplinarity, particularly from the perspectives of graduate students and community partners who are increasingly involved.

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Michelle Thompson (biography)

Our group of four graduate students from the University of Guelph and one community partner from the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, reflect on our experiences of working together toward community food security in Canada, especially producing a guidebook for farmer-led research (Fioret et al. 2018). As none of us had previously worked together, nor shared any disciplines in common, we found it essential to first develop a guiding framework for collaboration. Our thinking combined the following key principles from action research and transdisciplinarity:

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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.

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

What motivates researchers to become transdisciplinary and what are the implications for career development?

By Maria Helena Guimarães, Olivia Bina and Christian Pohl

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1. Maria Helena Guimarães (biography)
2. Olivia Bina (biography)
3. Christian Pohl (biography)

If disciplines shape scientific research by forming the primary institutional and cognitive units in academia, how do researchers start being interested in and working with a transdisciplinary approach? How does this influence their career development?

We interviewed 12 researchers working in Switzerland who are part of academia and identify as ‘transdisciplinarians’.

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Learning from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research ‘failures’

By Dena Fam and Michael O’Rourke

Dena Fam
Dena Fam (biography)

What makes interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research challenging? What can go wrong and lead to failure? What has your experience been?

Modes of research that involve the integration of different perspectives, such as interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, are notoriously challenging for a host of reasons. Interdisciplinary research requires the combination of insights from different academic disciplines and it is common that these:

  • bear the stamp of different epistemologies; and,
  • involve different types of data collected using different methods in the service of different explanations.

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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.

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Improving transdisciplinary arts-science partnerships

By Tania Leimbach and Keith Armstrong

Tania Leimbach (biography)

Collaborations with scientists have become a major focal point for artists, with many scientists now appreciating the value of building working relationships with artists and projects often going far beyond illustration of scientific concepts to instead forge new collaborative frontiers. What is needed to better “enable” and “situate” arts–science partnerships and support mutual learning?

Our research looked at the facilitation of arts–science partnerships through the investigation of two unique collaborative projects, developed at two geographically distinct sites, initiated by artist Keith Armstrong. One was enacted with an independent arts organisation in regional Australia and the other at a university art gallery in Sydney, Australia.

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