Figure 1 shows four key purposes of inter- and transdisciplinary research. In its definition, the US National Academy of Sciences cites two purposes: advancing fundamental understanding and solving problems. Within each of these purposes, we can distinguish two sub-purposes.
Figure 1: Four key purposes of inter- and transdisciplinary research, each leading to a different definition: encyclopaedic understanding, holistic understanding, problem solving, and reflection-in-action.
This figure is the result of work in progress and should not to be taken as a comprehensive analysis of all possible purposes.
In order to understand a phenomenon in a way that accounts for complexity and diversity, it is necessary to integrate the expertise and perspectives of diverse disciplines and various other bodies of specialised knowledge. Combining these bodies of knowledge enables us to develop a comprehensive understanding and to overcome the “symmetry of ignorance” [1, p325] .
In order to develop solutions to societal problems that account for complexity and diversity, it is likewise necessary to combine different bodies of knowledge.
The four purposes are simplified ideal types . Actual projects may observe several of them without clearly distinguishing between them.
This work represents an initial attempt to systematise the definitions of inter- and transdisciplinarity according to their purpose. It may be used to help structure the many definitions that currently exist. Comments, reviews, and criticisms of the purposes we cite, purposes we may have overlooked, or any possible improvements are always welcome: