Transdisciplinary research heuristics

Transdisciplinary research (of the European sustainability style) is described in this video as research that combines knowledge from different disciplines and engages with societal actors:

  1. to grasp the complexity of a societal problem;
  2. to take into account the diversity of perceptions that stakeholders and disciplines may have of a problem;
  3. to link generalised abstract and case-specific knowledge; and,
  4. to develop knowledge and practices that promote what is perceived to be the common good.

Compared to basic research taking place in the realm of a given discipline, trans-disciplinary projects are an encounter of various realms and their underlying worldviews. For instance, and depending on the project’s specific aim and composition, these can involve the natural, medical, engineering or social sciences, the humanities, the private or the public sector or civil society. To appraise, to position and to interrelate the different realms and their underlying worldviews (“worldview-brokering”) is what trans-disciplinary research is all about.

Some researchers presume that disciplinary excellence qualifies them for trans-disciplinary encounters, convinced that ‘you just have to do it’. This leads to a great deal of re-inventing the wheel. If experiences drawn from researchers and the projects they are involved in are systematically analysed, common challenges can be identified together with useful heuristics that can enable trans-disciplinary encounters. Among those heuristics are:

  • To invest substantial time and brain-power in all three stages of trans-disciplinary research: (1) problem framing; (2) problem analysis; and, (3) bringing results to fruition;
  • To design research recursively, ie., to alternate phases of doing research with phases of critically reflecting on research;
  • To start synthesis with problem framing and to understand consensus as one possible form of synthesis;
  • To reduce complexity by contextualisation;
  • And that there is no jack-of-all-trades trans-disciplinarity.

Video (27 minutes): “Heuristics of Transdisciplinary Research” presented by Christian Pohl 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 (1.2MB).



Posted: November 2014
Last modified: June 2015