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?

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Impacts of social learning in transformative research

By Flurina Schneider, Lara M. Lundsgaard-Hansen, Thoumthone Vongvisouk, and Julie G. Zähringer

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Flurina Schneider (biography)

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.

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Methods for integration in transdisciplinary research

By Matthias Bergmann

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Matthias Bergmann (biography)

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.

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Transkillery! What skills are needed to be a boundary crosser?

By Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Dana Cordell

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Dena Fam (biography)

What skills and dispositions are required by researchers and practitioners in transdisciplinary research and practice in crossing boundaries, sectors and paradigms?

The insights here come from interviews with 14 internationally recognized transdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, chosen from a diverse range of research and practice-based perspectives.

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Tanzi Smith (biography)

Here we focus on:

1) skills for specific tasks such as facilitation of a meeting, crafting a well-written report, and communicating effectively across disciplines; and,

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Dana Cordell (biography)

2) dispositions, attitudes, orientations and temperaments of an effective researcher/practitioner, i.e., as a way of being.

Six categories of skills and dispositions

The core skills and dispositions of an exceptional transdisciplinary researcher/practitioner can be grouped into six categories, illustrated in the figure below.

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Ten lessons from a transdisciplinary PhD program in sustainable development

By Marianne Penker

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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.

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Designing for impact in transdisciplinary research

By Cynthia Mitchell, Dena Fam and Dana Cordell

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Cynthia Mitchell (biography)

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.

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Material resources for transdisciplinary research

By Chris Riedy

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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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Storytelling ethnography as a way of doing transdisciplinary research

By Jane Palmer

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Jane Palmer (biography)

Storytelling ethnography is a valuable tool if your research traverses several disciplines and aims for insights that transcend all of them. Stories not only integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines, but can also “change the way people act, the way they use available knowledge” (Griffiths 2007).

The special qualities of transdisciplinarity are:

  • its potential for integrative inquiry and emergent solutions,
  • its engagement with community and other non-academic knowledges, and
  • the breadth of its outcomes for researchers, participants and the wider community.

These are also qualities of what I call storytelling ethnography.

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Key readings about interdisciplinarity / Lecturas clave sobre interdisciplina

By Bianca Vienni

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Bianca Vienni (biography)

An English version of this post is available

Si ud tuviera que elegir un conjunto de textos clave sobre la interdisciplina para traducir a otro idioma y utilizarlos en un grupo de discusión, ¿cuáles serían? Esa fue la tarea que nos propusimos en el Espacio Interdisciplinario de la Universidad de la República (UdelaR) en Uruguay.

Elegimos once textos que capturan la diversidad de enfoques sobre la interdisciplina y que también constituyen un punto de referencia para la producción académica.

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From integration to interaction: A knowledge ecology framework

By Zoë Sofoulis

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Zoë Sofoulis (biography)

Would a focus on ‘knowledge ecology’ provide a useful alternative to ‘knowledge integration’ in inter- and trans-disciplinary research?

My experience in bringing perspectives from the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) to projects led by researchers from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has led me to agree with Sharp and colleagues (2011) that ‘knowledge integration’ is essentially a positivist concept, dependent on the idealist model of a unified field of scientific knowledge to which every bit of science contributed.

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Integration – Part 1: The “what”

By Julie Thompson Klein

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Julie Thompson Klein’s biography

Integration lies at the heart of inter- and transdisciplinarity. Klein & Newell (1996) call it the “acid test” of interdisciplinarity, and Pohl, van Kerkhoff, Hirsch Hadorn, & Bammer (2008) consider it “the core methodology underpinning the transdisciplinary research process.”

What exactly, though, is integration?

This blog post answers that question while identifying key resources.

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Designing applied research for impact

By Andrew Campbell

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Andrew Campbell (biography)

How can we get the three critical groups in transdisciplinary research—researchers, end users of research, and funders of research—to work together in designing applied research for impact? As Roux and colleagues (2010) pointed out:

A key characteristic of transdisciplinary research is that the domains of science, management, planning, policy and practice are interactively involved in issue framing, knowledge production and knowledge application.”

A critical challenge is that each of the three groups is likely to have different perspectives on the goals of a given research project or program and how to achieve them, and therefore likely to define success differently.

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