Transdisciplinary research: jointly conducting the research

Purpose: To describe what is involved in jointly conducting transdisciplinary research, including in integration.

Description: Jointly conducting the research is the second of three distinct phases in transdisciplinary research shown in the figure below for transdisciplinary research on sustainability issues. It follows the first stage of framing the problem and is in turn followed by the third stage of exploring impact.

This second phase involves:

  • defining the collaboration between researchers from different disciplines and actors (stakeholders) from different societal sectors.
  • jointly generating knowledge.
  • bridging different knowledges and interests (integration).


Jointly conducting the research does not mean that all participants carry out all steps of the research together. The collaboration of researchers from different disciplines and actors from various societal sectors in transdisciplinary research is a dynamic process.

The intensity of involvement of the societal actors can vary from being informed to being consulted to co-producing knowledge in close collaboration as symbolized by the blue line in the figure below.

At the same time the intensity of collaboration between the different disciplines can vary, as shown by the pink line in that figure. In summary, the form and intensity of involvement of societal actors and the collaboration between the disciplines vary while the project is progressing. 


Based on Stauffacher et al. (2008), Pohl et al. (2017)


According to Jahn et al. (2012) integration is “… the cognitive operation that established a novel, hitherto non-existent connection between distinct entities of a given context.” O’Rourke and colleagues (2016) “… treat integration as an input/output process, where a series of changes to the inputs results in a ‘bringing together’ or combination of inputs, producing an output.

Integration is mostly based on partial knowledge about the subject, therefore different abstractions of the original subject exist. In both definitions, integration does not mean to fuse several elements into one, but means connecting several elements and by doing so producing something new.

How far should integration go and what form should it have? Three forms are discussed:

  • a consensus, where all participants have the same understanding of an issue and how to deal with it.
  • a boundary object, where integration means finding an object all participants are interested in―for instance a technological device, a risk map or a new policy. Consensus is not needed about how things are, but instead about what should be done (Star and Griesemer 1989).
  • systems of thought in reflective equilibrium, where different perspectives on an issue coexist and are in exchange, perhaps also leading to changes in one or several of them (Boix-Mansilla 2010).

The project team has to answer the questions of how far the integration should go and what an adequate form is, as these should serve the purpose of the project.

Tools for supporting joint research

The tdnet toolbox provides tools to support teams in jointly conducting research and in integration. Two examples are:

  • the give and take matrix, which supports coordination among sub-projects in larger consortia. The matrix asks each project to spell out what outputs they will provide for other sub-projects and what inputs they require from other sub-projects.
  • nomadic concepts, which asks all project participants to explain a key concept of a joint project from their perspective (for example they could be asked to explain water). The tool provides insights into the various perspectives on an issue, as well as identifying perspectives that could be linked or that enrich each other.


At the end of the second phase of a transdisciplinary project there are ideally:

  • some answers to the open questions co-produced by the participants.
  • clarity about how far integration goes (including consensus and dissent).
  • interesting insights arising for the participants from jointly producing knowledge.

Video: This is based on a lecture by Christian Pohl in week 4 of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Partnering for Change – Link Research to Societal Challenges”. (Online): and Video (5:36 minutes) is available on the Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) YouTube channel at or see the end of this page for the embedded video.


Boix Mansilla V. (2010). Learning to Synthesize: The Development of Interdisciplinary Understanding. In: R. Frodeman. J. T. Klein, C. Mitcham (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Oxford University Press: Oxford, United Kingdom, pp. 288–306.

Jahn, T., Bergmann, N. and Keil, F. (2012). Transdisciplinarity. Between Mainstreaming and Marginialization. Ecological Economics, 79: 1-10.

O’Rourke, M., Crowley, S. and Gonnerman, C. (2016). On the Nature of Interdisciplinary Integration, a Philosophical Framework. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 56 (Supplement C): 62-70.

Pohl, C., Krütli, P. and Stauffacher, M. (2008). Ten Reflective Steps for Rendering Research Societally Relevant. GAIA, 26, 1: 43-51.

Stauffacher, M., Flüeler, T., Krütli, P. and Scholz , R. W. (2008). Analytic and Dynamic Approach to Collaboration: A Transdisciplinary Case Study on Sustainable Landscape Development in a Swiss Pre-alpine Region. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 21, 6: 409–422.

Star. S. L. and Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects. Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19: 387-420.

Information about the give-and-take matrix and nomadic concepts is available at:

Related tools on this website:

Related tools on i2Insights blog:

Related tools on Wikipedia: N/A

Posted: August 2021
Last modified: August 2021