Transdisciplinarity and sustainability: the case of Mistra Urban Futures

This video describes how transdisciplinary research contributes to sustainability through a case study of five projects in Gothenburg, Sweden. It assesses a common assumption that transdisciplinary research is more able to contribute to societal problem solving than traditional forms of research. This assumption is based on the analytical belief that collaboration between and among social actors, disciplinary knowledge and practical expertise is necessary for contributing to sustainability. Such collaboration is seen to capture the diversity of values, knowledge, and practical know-how that is needed to produce socially robust, legitimate and accountable forms of knowledge for sustainability. However, while analytically compelling, such assumptions do not necessarily hold up in the harsh reality of current socio-environmental challenges. In order to live up to the ambition to contribute to sustainability, transdisciplinary research requires a framework that can both manage the research process and ensure that the desired results are achieved.

In the case study contributions to sustainability are assessed from a selection of criteria which appraise both the process and the outcomes. The conclusions show that the transdisciplinary framework successfully addressed many crucial issues for ensuring in-depth collaboration by a variety of diverse stakeholders from both research and practice. It successfully promoted a high level of stakeholder participation and situated learning across diverse sectors and disciplines in a variety of different substantive areas. However, while socially robust knowledge was indeed produced; institutional and organizational norms and decision-making processes effectively excluded such hybrid forms of learning and knowledge production from everyday practice. Overall, the framework fell short in its lack of mechanisms for capturing the results of the transdisciplinary processes and re-integrating them back the wider realms of everyday practice where social change occurs.

Video (27 minutes): “Does Transdisciplinarity Contribute to Sustainability? Testing and Evaluating a Framework for Transdisciplinary Knowledge Production for Sustainable Social Change” presented by Merritt Polk, was a plenary talk at the First Global Conference on Research Integration and Implementation held in Canberra in Australia, online and at three co-conferences (Lueneburg in Germany, The Hague in the Netherlands and Montevideo in Uruguay), 8-11 September 2013. The Microsoft PowerPoint presentation from the video is available as a PDF (1.5MB).



Posted: October 2014
Last modified: July 2015