Network for Transdisciplinary Research
Transdisciplinary Research (TR)
Transdisciplinary Research (TR) responds to the observation that „the world has problems, universities have departments“ (Brewer 1999, 328). This means that TR is oriented towards problem fields in the life-world. TR complements basic research and driven by advancing disciplinary research frontiers (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008).
TR complements applied research in problem fields characterized by complexity and uncertainty: “There is a need for TR when knowledge about a societally relevant problem field is uncertain, when the concrete nature of problems is disputed, and when there is a great deal at stake for those concerned by problems and involved in dealing with them” (Pohl and Hirsch Hadorn 2007, 20). Examples of such problem fields are migration, violence, health, poverty, global environmental change and cultural tranformation processes, among others.
„The starting point for TR is a socially relevant problem field. Within this field, TR identifies, structures, analyses and deals with specific problems in such a way that it can:
„TR addresses three kinds of research questions: (a) questions about the genesis and possible development of a problem field, and about interpretations of the problems in the life-world; (b) questions related to determining and explaining practice-oriented goals; and (c) questions that concern the development of pragmatic means (technologies, institutions, laws, norms etc.) as well as the possibility of transforming existing conditions. In their vision of research for sustainability, Swiss researchers defined three different types of knowledge which are also often used to characterise TR: systems, target and transformation knowledge.“ (Pohl and Hirsch Hadorn 2007, 36). TR analyses questions related to all three forms of knowledge taking into account their mutual dependency.
Transdisciplinary research intertwines two processes: A process of research providing new findings and a process of problem solving in the life-world (Bergmann et al. 2005, 19). The transdisciplinary research process consists of three phases: (a) Problem identification and structuring, (b) problem analysis and (c) bringing results to fruition. „Transdisciplinarity implies that the precise nature of a problem to be addressed and solved is not predetermined and needs to be defined cooperatively by actors from science and the life-world. To enable the refining of problem definition as well as the joint commitment in solving or mitigating problems, transdisciplinary research connects problem identification and structuring, searching for solutions, and bringing results to fruition in a recursive research and negotiation process. Transdisciplinarity thus dismantles the traditional sequence leading from scientific insight to action“ (Wiesmann et al. 2008, 436)
The Principles are a synthesis work based on a variety of existing definitions. Elements of those definitions can be found in the td-net understanding (Pohl and Hirsch Hadorn 2007, 70-95).
The staring point of TR, which is characterized as uncertain and a large investment for those concerned, refers to Funtowicz’ und Ravetz’ description of post-normal science (Funtowicz und Ravetz 1993).
The requirement to grasp the complexity of problems can be related to Erich Jantsch’s definition of transdisciplinarity, which was inspired by system theory thinking (Jantsch 1972).
The requirement to take into account the diversity of life-world and scientific perceptions of problems is expressed in the call for participatory research (Häberli und Grossenbacher-Mansuy 1998, Defila und Di Giulio 2006) as well as for collaborating disciplines (Mittelstraß 1992, Costanza 2003).
The requirement to link abstract and case-specific knowledge derives from the field of intervention research (Argyris 1976, van den Daele und Krohn 1998, Hubert und Bonnemaire 2000, Groß et al. 2005).
The requirement to develop knowledge and practices that promote what is perceived to be the common good is implicit to definitions that adjust knowledge production to problems of the life-world rather than to science (Mittelstraß 1992). The orientation to the common interest is rarely stated in such an explicit way in definitions of transdisciplinarity, contrary to the US-American field of Policy Sciences, where the common interest serves as an explicit orientation (Clark 2002, 13). The orientation to the common interest may also be found in technology assessment (Grunwald 1999, 243). The meaning of the common interest is not given, but has to be clarified for the context of the project.