On Transdisciplinary Research – Part 1

The Unity of Knowledge

Like the name implies, transdisciplinary research is research that moves beyond the academic disciplines.  It differs from interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary research in many ways, but one major characteristic really sets it apart, namely that it puts the same value on non-disciplinary knowledge as disciplinary knowledge.  This is called the unity of knowledge.  It means that other types of knowledge, like for instance contextual knowledge, religious knowledge, and/or cultural knowledge are given the same importance as disciplinary knowledge during the research.  In doing transdiciplinary research we need to be careful not to just pay lip service to this very important feature of transdisciplinarity.

This makes transdisciplinary research well suited to do context-specific research that focuses on the co-production of knowledge involving diverse stakeholders, iteratively traversing three phases of progress in the generation of knowledge and understanding:

  • Systems Knowledge – “knowledge about what is”, where the current situation is described to a sufficient level of detail to inform the study appropriately
  • Target Knowledge – “knowledge about what should or should not be” where the desired outcome is described to a sufficient level of detail to have a common understanding among diverse stakeholders
  • Transformation Knowledge – “knowledge about how to get from systems to target knowledge” where we generate a common understanding of how to transform the environment from what is to what should be.

The next thing to keep in mind regarding the unity of knowledge is that there are legitimate different viewpoints, and the various participants are likely to have different and sometimes conflicting views.  Transdisciplinary research is also able to deal with this.  How this is done will be discussed in following posts.

What does this mean?

The disciplinary or academic thinkers do not “own” or “lead” the research.  Transdisciplinary researchers need to take care to treat all participants equally and give equal value to their contribution.  The transdisciplinary framework is well suited to deal with the various implications of this.  For a start, the research needs to be context-specific rather than in principle or theory-led, with all participants having an appropriate voice and influence.

Read Transdisciplinarity – Part 2:  The three pillars

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