Understand inter- and transdisciplinary research
1. What is interdisciplinary research (IDR)?

There is no uniform definition of IDR, various definitions coexist. Common denominators are:

  • IDR involves bodies of knowledge derived from more than one discipline.
  • IDR strives for collaboration between disciplines.
  • IDR aims to integrate knowledge, at least to some extent.

Read Learn more about ID/TD

2. What is transdisciplinary research (TDR)?

There is no uniform definition of TDR, various definitions coexist. Common denominators are that

  • TDR intends to transgress boundaries between disciplinary knowledge
  • TDR intends to integrate different bodies of knowledge and create new knowledge
  • TDR tends to imply active co-creation of knowledge between academic and societal partners

Read Learn more about ID/TD

3. How does IDR/TDR relate to research modes such as “multidisciplinary research”, “collaborative research” and “team science”?

You may often hear these terms used interchangeably which is erroneous.  Unlike IDR and TDR described above:

  • multidisciplinary research juxtaposes separate disciplinary approaches around a common interest where researchers from each discipline work in a self-contained manner with little cross fertilisation (“integration”) among disciplines or synergy in the research outcomes
  • collaborative research requires researchers to work together on a project but they may do so from a variety of  standpoints – they may or may not share the same disciplinary background.  Consequently, such collaborations may take very different forms (monodisciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, etc.)
  • team science is defined as any team-based research involving two or more research groups.  As such it could represent  mono-, multi-, inter- or transdisciplinary research.  It is more typically used in the context of medical sciences, more commonly used in the US, and currently less prevalent in the context of AHSS disciplines

Read Learn more about ID/TD and Build relationships across different sectors 

4. Why do researchers want to do IDR/TDR?

There are diverse motives for undertaking IDR/TDR, ranging from a very pragmatic desire to meet the criteria of a funding call to intellectual desire to connect with other disciplines or sectors.

Researchers often opt for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches when they want to address societal challenges. As societal challenges are most often very complex, rapidly changing, and often lack a clear problem definition, effective solutions require a range of perspectives.

There are also more academically-oriented reasons for pursuing IDR/TDR in order to further the expertise of academic disciplines themselves, and enable new issues to be addressed and sub-disciplines to emerge.

Read Understand different motivations for ID/TD

5. Why should societal actors support IDR/TDR?

The concerns of societal actors – such as citizens, creative practitioners, enterprise and NGOS – are seldom contained within the boundaries of a single academic discipline.

  • If you are looking for a solution to a societal problem, it is helpful to get contributions from researchers from various disciplines.
  • IDR/TDR strives to integrate contributions from different disciplines, in close collaboration with societal actors.
  • In the case of TDR, societal partners are invited to co-produce knowledge from the beginning, and throughout the research process, including the joint exploration of ways that research can have impact.

Read additional resources on the role of Societal Partner

Understand AHSS integration
6. What is AHSS integration?

AHSS integration aims at inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration between (and among) the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) and other Sciences, particularly Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) disciplines on equal footing.

Integration of AHSS can take many forms. For example, relationships between AHSS and STEM disciplines – as well as relationships between different AHSS disciplines – may lead to transformative connections (that imply a change in disciplinary domains) or productive convergence (in which researchers integrate different types of knowledge).

We consider a relationship on equal footing to be especially promising for tapping into the full potential of AHSS, which also entails establishing a shared understanding of the roles AHSS can play in IDR/TDR.

 

7. What roles can AHSS play in IDR/TDR addressing societal challenges?

Approaches from the arts, humanities and social sciences can:

    • allow us to understand the complexity of behaviour and identities
    • challenge or disrupt accepted ideas; enable a focus on discourses, narratives and representations
    • enhance reflexivity
    • foster intercultural and intergenerational dialogue
    • provide critical, ethical and historical perspectives
    • reframe problems to centre on human experience.

Read Understand the roles that AHSS can play

8. Where can I find inspiring examples of meaningful AHSS leadership in IDR/TDR projects addressing societal challenges?

The toolkit provides case studies with strong AHSS components that directly address societal challenges, such as big data (KPLEX), new emerging technologies (SIENNA), and rural regeneration (RURITAGE).

Find out more in Read inspiring case studies

Develop collaborative conditions
9. Why is it important to foster collaborations between AHSS and STEM?

AHSS are far less involved in IDR/TDR funding schemes than STEM, even though AHSS disciplines provide promising complements to the focus of STEM disciplines by, for example, providing important context information for policy applications as well as historical and/or ethical perspectives.

By contextualising and incorporating human dimensions in IDR/TDR, AHSS can enhance the research’s relevance, legitimacy and uptake by external stakeholders.

It is also important to acknowledge the complementary power of AHSS that goes beyond contributing to – the increasingly well-funded – problem-solving research approaches. Philosophical, critical and transgressive approaches of the AHSS interrogate, critique and approach research from a different angle and thereby provide alternative ways of research framing.

Read Understand the roles that AHSS can play

10. What are the most important preconditions for good IDR/TDR with AHSS involvement?

Preconditions can be clustered into three broad categories:

  • structural factors supporting AHSS integration (e.g. policy priorities for long-term commitment or support of inter-institutional collaboration and partnerships)
  • competencies and attributes necessary for AHSS integration (e.g. reflexivity, openness, stakeholder-empathy)
  • cross-cutting categories that underpin and connect the first two categories (e.g. promoting plural understandings, joint problem framing, and mutual learning)

Learn more about ID/TD includes a heuristic tool – developed by Bianca Vienni Baptista and Christian Pohl – that addresses many of these preconditions.

11. How can AHSS researchers gain allies in policy communities to support the full potential of AHSS research in contributing to societal challenges?

AHSS researchers can emphasise that their disciplines not only contribute to research that develops solutions to societal problems – problems predefined by funding calls – but also suggest alternative approaches to address current challenges which result in alternative ways to frame problems.

THe AHSS deepen our understanding of specific contexts and of how language, narratives, discourses and emotions influence our beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviour.

Both AHSS and STEM identify drivers and barriers of change in society, but AHSS often further explore why and how certain factors induce change, and thereby complement quantitative (STEM) analyses of the scope of potential change.

Read Understand the roles that AHSS can play

12. How do we address the STEM bias in institutions and policy?

AHSS perspectives should be involved at very early stages of initiatives/programs/funding calls so that they contribute to the research design and framing. Attention should be paid to the language used in calls and policy documents so that it is not framed by a specific disciplinary jargon. Being careful about the composition of review panels (including several experts in ID/TD) is also recommended.

 

13. How can I build collaborations to engage in IDR/TDR, particularly outside my home Institution?

Ideas for IDR/TDR collaborations often emerge from informal encounters and may be further developed in workshop. The latter may be enabled by a seed grant or a conference setting. We recommend:

  • engaging with  IDR/TDR communities
  • taking advantage of seed grant funding opportunities
  • making use of IDR/TDR support entities provided by universities and funders

Crucially, once you have found potential collaborators, invest time in discussing the project so as to align expectations regarding objectives, roles, and expected outcomes.

Read  Develop a network, Support community building and Build research teams

14. How can we involve policy researchers. policy makers and policy analysts as collaborators in projects?

There are various tools and methods that invite stakeholders to engage in the problem framing, to provide feedback on concepts, data, preliminary results and to jointly develop impact pathways.

A prerequisite for stakeholder involvement is to have identified who to involve and why (e.g. according to their interest, expertise, power, affectedness).

Read Forming research partnerships with societal groups and Build relationships across different sectors

15. How do we reimagine the knowledge production process with greater emphasis on co-production with policy makers, practitioners and citizens from the start?

In a TDR process, a substantial amount of time should be invested in jointly framing the research and jointly developing research questions in order to co-produce meaningful results for the stakeholders involved. This means that the results will be scientifically novel and valid, but also socially relevant.

Read Co-create a research project and Build relationships across different sectors

Fund collaborative research projects
16. What can national funders or foundations do to support better AHSS participation in IDR/TDR?

We encourage funders, foundations (and policymakers) to:

  • engage more substantively with AHSS communities across the spectrum of disciplines and with IDR/TDR experts to incorporate AHSS perspectives into the design, language (‘discipline neutral language’) and framing of funding calls
  • commit to missions driven by socio-cultural challenges and embed questions that foreground the human dimensions of challenges
  • allow for additional resources – e.g. seed grants – to enable IDR/TDR development and relationship building
  • support and incentivise universities to build capacity in IDR/TDR

Read Support AHSS disciplines in ID/TD funding processes and in Read inspiring case studies there is an account of how the Irish Research Council is funding interdisciplinary research.

17. What can the European Commission do to support better AHSS participation in IDR/TDR?

SHAPE-ID recommendations for funders correspond those of other bodies such as the INTREPID project and the League of European Research Universities (LERU). These include:

  • give greater weight to open calls and bottom-up initiatives to tap into the full potential of AHSS to provide alternative research findings.
  • centralise the human perspective in research on societal challenges to balance the AHSS-STEM interactions
  • balance and diversify evaluation panels to assure that they incorporate AHSS and IDR/TDR expertise

Read Commit to long-term policy change

 

Evaluate inter- and transdisciplinary research
18. What evaluation criteria are appropriate for IDR/TDR funding proposals and projects

As with all funding proposals, an IDR/TDR proposal should describe clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, significant results, effective presentation, and reflective critique.

Most importantly, such a proposal should have a clear rationale for why an ID/TD approach is necessary and an explanation of how such an integrative approach will be achieved

Read Assess the feasibility and impact of an ID/TD approach in research proposals, including the Reflective Tool for reviewing IT/TD funding proposals and projects.

19. How can funders ensure ID/TD evaluation panels work as smoothly as possible?

At minimum, funders need to ensure that panellists – and in particular the chair – have sufficient breadth of interdisciplinary understanding and that they have been provided with guidance on how to evaluate ID/TD proposals including clearly specified criteria.

Read Appoint ID/TD evaluators

Disseminate research findings
20. Where can researchers find good resources on lobbying or engaging with policymakers in their respective fields/sectors?

The SHAPE-ID toolkit compiles transdisciplinary tools and resources to develop collaborative conditions across sectors and to better understand research-policy interactions. In order to approach policymakers effectively, it is also helpful to demonstrate why IDR/TDR is important and disseminate findings in formats appropriate for respective target groups.

Read Develop collaborative conditions, especially the resources on building relationships across different sectors

Read Understand research-policy interactions, including the Top Ten Tips for working with policy makers by Catherine Lyall and Learn how to communicate to different audiences

21. Where can I find good examples of AHSS disciplines or institutes that actively engage with policy and public discussion?

The toolkit provides inspiring case studies, e.g. on the Centre for the Study of the Senses which organises dialogue events involving the public; or the SIENNA project which involves stakeholders – including policy makers and the general public – in the development of ethical and legal frameworks for new emerging technologies.

Find out more in Read Inspiring case studies

Improve research skills
22. What skills are needed to do IDR/TDR?

Besides the skills needed to perform research within specific disciplines, doing inter- and transdisciplinary research requires additional “meta-skills” such as leadership, communication, negotiation and integration. The latter may entail the integration of data, methods, concepts, theories or worldviews and values.

Read Improve research skills

23. How can educators and supervisors encourage interest and develop skills in IDR/TDR involving AHSS and STEM among AHSS doctoral students?

Interest can be encouraged as IDR/TDR  both demonstrates high capacity to address real world issues and can broaden an individual’s horizons.

Educators and supervisors may also serve as role model by demonstrating a willingness to learn new methods and from other disciplines, as well as readiness to question one’s own assumptions.

For skills development, interactive formats in small groups, project-based learning and guided reflections are recommended.

Read Supervise an ID/TD PhD and our piece on the University of Utrecht’s Liberal Arts and Science Bachelor programme in Read inspiring case studies

 

24. What tools or methods can we use to navigate the differences between different disciplinary and sector perspectives at different stages of a research project?

The ID/TD communities have developed interactive tools and methods that help to make – disciplinary and sectoral – perspectives explicit and/or to negotiate different interests and needs with regard to the research process and outcomes.

For example, in the td-net toolbox, you can search by phase and find tools and methods recommended for specific research project phases.

Read Identify potential ID/TD tools and methods

Support collaborative researchers
25. What changes do we need in Higher Education Institutions to build a culture more supportive of IDR/TDR?

SHAPE-ID encourages Higher Education Institutions to

  • rethink curricula and PhD training in terms of inclusion of IDR/TDR elements
  • use more comprehensive research evaluation systems that entail broader criteria and indicators, and intense interaction with relevant societal stakeholders: public, private and also supranational.

Read Commit to long-term policy change and Read inspiring case studies, includes a piece on how the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute is building a culture of interdisciplinarity

 

26. What could university research support offices do to encourage integrating AHSS and STEM researchers in developing grant applications?

University research support offices can enable informal cross-departmental encounters and help nurture early project ideas. They can also  take over an (external) facilitation role, highlight good integration practices, assure that AHSS is integrated at a very early stage of project development and help to manage expectations.

Read the SHAPE-ID Reflective Tool for Higher Education Institutions

27. How do funders and institutions initiate and foster long-term relationships between STEM and AHSS researchers, or between AHSS researchers from different disciplines, to tackle societal challenges together?

As IDR/TDR is often funded by short-term projects, project-overarching research networks and infrastructures are needed to establish long-term relationships. We encourage funders to support and research institutions to engage in research networks and infrastructures, and to especially focus on those that foster collaborations within AHSS and between STEM and AHSS.

Furthermore, we recommend that funders encourage follow-on projects, and universities to identify priority topics where collaborations between STEM and AHSS are especially promising and to support them respectively.

Read Commit to long-term policy change and Support community building for existing networking platforms

28. Why are research networks and infrastructures important in ID/TD?

IDR/TDR is often funded by short-term projects. Research networks and infrastructures enable the re-use of project data as well as the development of tools and methods. They provide guidance to newcomers in accessing or making use of resources, foster sustainability within IDR/TDR and ensure value for money from funded projects.

Read the SHAPE-ID Guide to Research Infrastructures in AHSS

Develop a career in inter- and transdisciplinary research
29. How can I, as an early career researcher in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, connect with STEM researchers outside my home institution?

The SHAPE-ID toolkit provides examples of such connections in our case studies (e.g. on the Trinity Long Room Hub) and has a section dedicated to developing collaborative conditions. Early career researchers are encouraged to participate in interdisciplinary courses, PhD programs (summer/winter schools), and interdisciplinary workspaces/infrastructures.

 

Read Develop collaborative conditions and find out more about specific projects in Read Inspiring case studies

30. How can AHSS researchers make best use of existing opportunities for IDR/TDR?

Opportunities to participate in IDR/TDR often develop from existing networks. AHSS researchers can develop relationships by using existing infrastructures to bring colleagues together in interdisciplinary seminar series or facilitate discussion events in response to funding calls.

Read Build and sustain a career as an ID/TD researcher and Identify relevant funding sources

31. As an inter- or transdisciplinary early career researcher, how can I best position myself for funding and career opportunities?

We recommend that you maintain a clear research identity, as well as a  record of the output and impact of your work. The latter may entail participation in research collaborations or networks, joint publications, or interdisciplinary capacity building programs.

Read Create an ID/TD CV and Build and sustain a career as an ID/TD researcher

 

32. How do ID/TD researchers get funding and build networks?

Many universities offer training on funding and networking. Some funders provide seed grants for IDR/TDR that can be used to bring researchers together and jointly develop a research proposal.

Read Develop a network and Identify relevant funding sources

33. How can I connect to professional networks for IDR/TDR practitioners, scholars or integration experts?

There are several platforms that support IDR/TDR community building. Universities also offer training on networking.

Read Support community building and Develop a network