Global development aspirations, such as those endorsed within the Sustainable Development Goals, are complex. Sometimes the science is contested, the values are divergent, and the solutions are unclear. How can researchers help stakeholders and policy-makers use credible knowledge for decision-making, which accounts for the full range of trade-off implications?
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
Human groups and societies have built many kinds of bridges for centuries. Since the 19th century, engineers have designed complex physical structures that were intended to serve one or more purposes in precise situations. In essence, the construction of a bridge is meant to join two places together. What may appear as a mundane functional structure is built only after numerous decisions have been made about its appearance, cost, functions, location and structure. Will a bridge serve only as a link and passage, or will it serve other functions?
In discussing three things the transdisciplinary research community can do to build bridges, I use “building bridges” as a metaphor. I discuss a bridge as a human-made artefact that is attributed meaningful form. It is created intentionally for one or more purposes.
One toolkit provides concepts and methods relevant to the full range of transdisciplinary research, while the others cover four key aspects: (i) collaboration, (ii) synthesis of knowledge from relevant disciplines and stakeholders, (iii) thinking systemically, and (iv) making change happen.
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?
By Flurina Schneider, Lara M. Lundsgaard-Hansen, Thoumthone Vongvisouk, and Julie G. Zähringer
How can science truly support sustainability transformations?
In our research projects we often find that the very process of co-producing knowledge with stakeholders has transformative impacts. This requires careful design and implementation. Knowledge co-production in transdisciplinary and other research leads to social learning and can make a difference in the lives of those involved.
To make progress in contributing to the solution of complex real-world problems, transdisciplinary research has come to the forefront. By integrating multiple disciplines as well as the expertise of partners from societal practice, transdisciplinary researchers are able to look at a problem from many angles, with the goal of making both societal and scientific advances.
But how can these different types of expertise be integrated into both a better understanding of the problem and more effective ways of addressing it?
Colleagues and I have collected 43 methods from a number of transdisciplinary research projects dealing with a variety of research topics. We have grouped them into seven classes following an epistemological hierarchy. We start with methods in the narrower sense, progressing to integration instruments.
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.
Starting with richly articulated pictures of where we would like to be at some defined point in the future has powerful consequences for any human endeavour. How can we use such “Outcome Spaces” to guide the conception, design, implementation, and evaluation of transdisciplinary research?
Our Outcome Spaces Framework (Mitchell et al., 2017) considers three essential impacts:
(1) improving the situation,
(2) generating relevant stocks and flows of knowledge, and
(3) mutual and transformational learning by the researcher/s and involved participants.
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’.