Disentangling the huddle of literature on inter- and transdisciplinary research: 5 online tools offer perspective

[This post is written by Judith Kahle and Stephanie Jahn]

The conceptual model of an ideal–typical transdisciplinary research process (adopted from Lang et al., 2012, Sust Sci.)
The conceptual model of an ideal–typical transdisciplinary research process (adopted from Lang et al., 2012, Sust. Sci.)

We perceive transdisciplinarity as the key research mode for the next generation of sustainability researchers. In this blog post we want to share our insights from this year´s ITC-conference in Basel with you (http://www.transdisciplinarity.ch/e/Network/international/2015/). Stephen Fiore, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of Central Florida, from the department of Philosophy held an inspiring keynote on the future of transdisciplinary research. Fiore especially problematized the on-going “overproduction” of scientific knowledge. Each month hundreds of research papers are published, providing a rapidly growing body of scientific knowledge. Our cognitive capacities of filtering, processing and integrating the new knowledge that is produced by scholars and non-academic actors each day are certainly limited. Fiore proposes three solutions to this problem:

  1. Employment of artificial intelligence, like i.e. the use of computer systems like IBM Watson that is able to conduct rapid text analysis screening huge databases within seconds.
  2. Use of substances to increase concentration and therefore productivity, like i.e. Ritalin (Methylphenidate).
  3. Bio-hacking or body modification, like i.e. implantation of micro-chips that enhance brain productivity or are able to support brain processes.

While we agree that it would be an advantage to have digital assistants like Watson in the office, we still hesitate to pursue step 2 and 3. Until we might be willing to take even these radical steps, we propose an alternative to cope with the rising amount of scientific knowledge: Online tools to support transdisciplinary research. In the related panel discussion at the ITD-Conference several web-pages were introduced that attempt to collect and structure resources in the realm of inter- and transdisciplinary research. We think these online tools are helpful devices for disentangling the huddle of conceptual and methodological knowledge of transdisciplinarity. The information allows for quick overviews and therefore is especially relevant for three groups of people:

  1. People who are new to inter- and transdisciplinary research and are looking for a general understanding of these research modes and methods.
  2. People who are seeking for concise information for specific methods of inter- and transdisciplinary research.
  3. People who are interested in different approaches towards inter- and transdisciplinary research depending on the responsible and involved institutions, institutes and scholars.

Below we introduce five online tools related to transdisciplinary research which – in addition – also show strong links to the discourses on interdisciplinarity, science of team science as well as integration and implementation sciences. The five online tools presented first attempts to make knowledge and experiences in inter- and transdisciplinary research transparent and easily accessible for everyone who is interested:

1) Short guides to interdisciplinary research: A collection of short guides for people planning, applying or asses interdisciplinary research endeavors. The webpage is hosted by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland/UK, provided by Catherine Lyall and collaborators. Link: http://www.issti.ed.ac.uk/resources/briefing_notes

2) Integration and Implementation Sciences Resources: Compiling repository for tools, cases and approaches created and applied by researchers and practitioners investigating real-world problems. The webpage is hosted by the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, provided by Gabriele Bammer and collaborators. Link: http://i2s.anu.edu.au/resources

3) Team Science Toolkit: An interactive website to help you to support, conduct and study team-based research. Hosted by the National Cancer Institute, Washington, United States, provided by The National Cancer Institute’s Science of Team Science (SciTS) Team. Link: https://www.teamsciencetoolkit.cancer.gov/Public/Home.aspx

4) About Interdisciplinarity: Collection of key elements of definitions, history and best practices in interdisciplinary research. Hosted by the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, provided by Rick Szostak. Link: https://sites.google.com/a/ualberta.ca/rick-szostak/research/about-interdisciplinarity

5) Td-net´s toolbox for co-producing knowledge: Compilation of selected methods for the co-production of knowledge. The webpage is hosted by the Swiss Academy of the Sciences, provided by Christian Pohl and collaborators, td-net, Network for Transdisciplinary Research. Link: http://www.naturalsciences.ch/topics/co-producing_knowledge

The delegation from Leuphana University of Lüneburg at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference in Basel, 08-10 September 2015
The delegation from Leuphana University of Lüneburg at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference in Basel, 08-10 September 2015

Everyone is invited to use and contribute to these platforms! See also the GAIA special section on transdisciplinary resources.

If you have found or find other ways to cope with the massive information flow that reaches you every day as a researcher – feel free to share your experiences and insights in the comment section! For an overall impression of the current state of the Transdisciplinarity-community and the tension between integration and fragmentation have a look at blog post at sustainability-governance.net – the blog of our research group at Leuphana University of Lüneburg.

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