Where does i2S fit amongst transdisciplinarity, systems thinking, action research and similar research approaches?

Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) aims to be the discipline that underpins a range of research approaches that tackle complex societal and environmental problems. These are approaches that draw on the insights of different disciplines and stakeholders to develop:

  1. a more comprehensive understanding of the complex problem, both what is known and unknown
  2. more ideas for ways of addressing the problem
  3. effective ways of supporting policy makers and practitioners from government, business and civil society in bringing about change to improve the problem.

There are many approaches, listed in the table at the end, that have been developed to undertake all or some of these tasks. Some aim to be comprehensive, such as transdisciplinarity, systems thinking and action research. Others address only a subset of these three tasks, such as implementation science, which focuses on effective ways of supporting policy and practice change, and the science of team science, which, although relevant to all three tasks, concentrates on the best ways of working together.

i2S recognizes that tackling complex societal and environmental problems generally benefits from a mix of approaches in that action research led by those affected by the problem may be suitable for some aspects of the problem, a system dynamics model for other aspects, and a specific change management approach for still others.

i2S also recognizes that none of the existing approaches encompasses everything that’s required to tackle complex problems or even all of the aspects of the other approaches. For example, all of the approaches are limited in how they deal with unknowns and change. Taking unknowns, for example:

  • approaches such as interdisciplinarity and implementation science hardly deal with unknowns
  • other approaches deal with unknowns in a specific way ignoring other aspects, for example postnormal science has developed ‘NUSAP’ to allow different sorts of uncertainty to be presented in a standardised way, while not dealing with unknown unknowns.

The point here is not to be critical of existing approaches, which have been hugely beneficial in highlighting the challenges of addressing complex societal and environmental problems, as well as developing effective ways of responding to those challenges. Instead, the time is right for developing ways of tackling complex problems that bring these different approaches together, as well as identifying and filling gaps that remain. This is the task that i2S has set for itself.
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This FAQ response builds on previous work in:

Bammer, G. (2013). Disciplining Interdisciplinarity: Integration and Implementation Sciences for Researching Complex Real-World Problems. ANU Press: Canberra, Australia. (Online) (DOI): http://dx.doi.org/10.22459/DI.01.2013

Bammer, G. (2018). Strengthening community operational research through exchange of tools and strategic alliances. European Journal of Operational Research, 268, 3: 1168-1177. (Online) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejor.2017.09.041

Bammer, G., O’Rourke, M., O’Connell, D., Neuhauser, L., Midgley, G., Klein, J. T., Grigg, N. J., Gadlin, H., Elsum, I. R., Bursztyn, M., Fulton, E. A., Pohl, C., Smithson, M., Vilsmaier, U., Bergmann, M., Jaeger, J., Merkx, F., Vienni Baptista, B., Burgman, M. A., Walker, D. H., Young, J., Bradbury, H., Crawford, L., Haryanto, B., Pachanee, C., Polk, M. and Richardson, G. P. (2020). Expertise in research integration and implementation for tackling complex problems: When is it needed, where can it be found and how can it be strengthened? Palgrave Communications, 6, 5. (Online) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0380-0; or, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-019-0380-0

POSTED: June 2022