What is needed to institutionalise transdisciplinarity?

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are the indicators that transdisciplinarity has been institutionalised? How close is it? What still needs to be done to achieve institutionalisation?

Transdisciplinary teaching and research are becoming more common in universities and a range of research organisations. So how will we know that transdisciplinarity is an integral and accepted part of the research and higher education scene, nationally and internationally?

I suggest that there are two primary criteria:

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A new alliance between the natural and human sciences?

By Sergio Mariotti

sergio-mariotti
Sergio Mariotti (biography)

How can we forge a new alliance between the natural and human sciences in order to deal with complex problems? Can economics and engineering show the way? Where does transdisciplinarity fit?

Ilya Prigogine based his 1990s theory of complexity on the need for a “new alliance” between the natural and human sciences in order to restore a unified knowledge based on plurality, diversity and multiple perspectives.

I explore what this would mean if we focus on two disciplines – economics and engineering – in the context of one complex problem: a future society increasingly influenced by the cluster of organizational and market innovations induced by Artificial Intelligence technologies.

Economists and engineers have played a vital role in the evolution of our modern society. The related disciplines have intertwined with each other, leading to mutual cross-fertilization.

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Navigating intercultural relations in transdisciplinary practice: The partial overlaps framework

By David Ludwig, Vitor Renck & Charbel N. El-Hani

authors_david-ludwig_vitor-renck_charbel-el-hani
1. David Ludwig (biography)
2. Vitor Renck (biography)
3. Charbel N. El-Hani (biography)

How can local knowledge be effectively and fairly incorporated in transdisciplinary projects? How can such projects avoid “knowledge mining” and “knowledge appropriation” that recognize marginalized knowledge only where it is convenient for dominant actors and their goals? In addition, how can knowledge integration programs avoid being naive or even harmful by forcing Indigenous people into regimes of knowledge production that continue to be dominated by the perspectives of external researchers?

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Setting an agenda for transdisciplinary research in Africa

By Basirat Oyalowo

author_basirat-oyalowo
Basirat Oyalowo (biography)

Why is transdisciplinary research important for the advancement of African countries? What are the key issues that need to be taken into account in fostering such research?

This blog post presents key lessons from the ‘Transdisciplinary Research Workshop: Rethinking Research in COVID-19 times’, held in August 2020, in which we brought together academia, government, civil society, industry and development agencies to delve into how researchers might navigate the new terrain wrought by COVID-19 in Africa and use it to further the development of transdisciplinary research. Although the focus of the workshop was urbanization and habitable cities and on adjusting to COVID-19, the lessons for enhancing transdisciplinary research are more broadly generalizable.

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Three types of knowledge

By Tobias Buser and Flurina Schneider

authors_tobias-buser_flurina-schneider
1. Tobias Buser (biography)
2. Flurina Schneider (biography)

When addressing societal challenges, how can researchers orient their thinking to produce not only knowledge on problems, but also knowledge that helps to overcome those problems?

The concept of ‘three types of knowledge’ is helpful for structuring project goals, formulating research questions and developing action plans. The concept first appeared in the 1990s and has developed into a core underpinning of transdisciplinary research.

The three types of knowledge, illustrated in the first figure below, are:

1. Systems knowledge, which is usually defined as knowledge about the current system or problem situation. It is mainly analytical and descriptive. For example, if you think of water scarcity, systems knowledge refers to producing a holistic understanding of the relevant socio-ecological system, including aspects like water availability, water uses, water management, justice questions, and their interrelations.

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Three complexity principles for convergence research

By Gemma Jiang

author_gemma-jiang
Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can principles adapted from complexity thinking be applied to convergence research? How can such principles help integrate knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines to form novel frameworks that catalyze scientific discovery and innovation?

I present three principles from the complexity paradigm that are highly relevant to convergence research. I then describe three types of transformative containers that I have developed to create enabling conditions for applying complexity principles to convergence.

1. Ecosystem consciousness: An inversion of perspectives

Ecosystem consciousness is necessary because in complex systems the whole (ecosystem) is bigger than the sum of its parts; the wellbeing of the whole and the parts are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

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Navigating paradoxical tensions through both/and thinking

By Faye Miller

author_faye-miller
Faye Miller (biography)

How can the many paradoxical tensions that arise in transdisciplinary projects be effectively navigated?

My recent research into how to produce shared understanding for digital and social innovation identifies three key tenets for navigating paradoxes as an emerging transdisciplinary method:

  1. Identifying paradoxical tensions;
  2. Moving from either/or to both/and thinking; and
  3. Working through paradoxes to workable certainty or negotiated understanding.

Identifying paradoxical tensions

A paradox involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements that exist simultaneously, which morph, shift and persist over time. Increasing our focus on paradoxes fosters the development of creative and innovative mindsets encouraging transdisciplinary researchers to employ both logic and intuition in their approaches.

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Effectively leading interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations

By Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations

authors_mosaic_effectively-leading-intgerdisciplinary-transdisciplinary-research-organisations
Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations details (biographies)

What qualities and skills do leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need?

Leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need the qualities that make any leader successful—creativity, humility, open-mindedness, long-term vision, and being a team player. In addition, we identified eight leadership attributes that are specific to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions and that help leaders to be transformative with real world impacts. Leaders need to cultivate:

  1. vision beyond the status quo
  2. collaborative leadership
  3. partnerships
  4. shared culture
  5. communications with multiple audiences
  6. appropriate monitoring and evaluation
  7. perseverance
  8. resources for success.

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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.

Lesson 1: A diverse and motivated group

A key element in fostering the transdisciplinary learning process was the diversity of the participant cohort. Not only were we from a variety of different disciplines and at different career stages, but we were also from different countries with different cultures. This variety enabled us to reflect about and approach the transdisciplinary process from different angles.

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Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence

author-roderick-lawrence
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

author_frederic-darbellay
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

authors_robert-pijpers_sabine-luning
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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