In US health research, for instance, transdisciplinarity means to study an issue – let us think of cancer – from the molecular level, through tissues, organs, bodies, and individuals up to society. As a result, we may learn how the neighbourhood in which a person lives influences the person’s immune system, which in turn helps or hinders a cancer therapy (1). For others, transdisciplinarity is a means to bridge between our western way of thinking and more holistic forms of knowing that do not separate scientific and spiritual thinking (2). We refer to an understanding which is popular in TDR in the field of sustainable development:
’Transdisciplinarity is a reflexive research approach that addresses societal problems by means of interdisciplinary collaboration as well as the collaboration between researchers and extra-scientific actors; its aim is to enable mutual learning processes between science and society; integration is the main cognitive challenge of the research process.’ (Jahn et al., 2012 (3))
Although this definition is adequate for TDR, due to its brevity, further key characteristics of TDR are left out. Two such characteristics that we consider key for our understanding are the outcomes of TDR and the design of the TDR process.
To be considered as TDR, according to Mitchel and colleagues (2015) (4), a project must affect three different outcome spaces:
To be TDR, according to Pohl and colleagues (2017) (5), the process of knowledge production leading to these outcomes has to be designed in such a way, that it can:
We see the collaboration of different disciplines and other societal actors as means to be used in a clever way to achieve these aims and outcomes. However, we refrain from defining how many disciplines and societal actors must be involved in a project to make it TDR. The question is not how many disciplines and societal actors are involved, but whether the relevant stakeholders and fields of expertise are present in the project.
Author: Christian Pohl