Building Transdisciplinary Research Networks

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Recent events attended by John Van Breda, TsamaHub

John Van Breda from the TsamaHub (a key SI partner) has recently attended some important events that have consolidated global networks of people and institutions involved in explorations of transdisciplinary research. These include the International Network for Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary (INIT) which met in Utrecht, Global Transdisciplinary Processes for Sustainable Phosphorous Management (Global TraPs) which took place in Zurich and was also attended by Mark Swilling, and a meeting in Berne on Evaluation of inter- and transdisciplinary research –  Experiences and reflections on best practice.

INIT – International Network for Interdisciplinarity & Transdisciplinarity
Utrecht Symposium: June 16–18, 2011.
INIT seeks to provide an international platform for discussion and promotion of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, teaching, and policy. INIT will inventory existing understandings, facilitate and enhance communication, and stimulate new research.
This network was formed at a recent meeting in New York City, attended by representatives from the US-based Association for Integrative Studies (AIS), the European-based Transdisciplinarity-Net (td-net), and the Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity (CSID) at the University of North Texas in the US.  The decision to launch INIT was because the field of interdisciplinarity (ID) and transdisciplinarity (TD) is quite diversified, consisting of different subgroups with different strengths, emphases, applications, and perspectives. The aim of INIT is to facilitate communication and collaborative work among organizations, institutions, and individuals that view ID and TD as a vibrant way to respond to the challenges of 21st century society. At this symposium, prominent scholars presented current good interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practices in the areas of research, teaching and policy analysis. The symposium shared knowledge and experiences, identify areas of consensus and dissensus, stimulate new research, and strengthen our network of scholars who study interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practices.

Global Transdisciplinary Processes for Sustainable Phosphorous Management (Global TraPs):  29 – 30 August, Zurich
Phosphorous (P) is an essential element for any living organism and a critical element of food security. Equal access and sustainable use of P is therefore of key importance. Based on recent information, it has become clear that the current way of using P – such as that of fossil energy – must be critically analysed. Whilst the extent and life span of the natural resources (e.g. phosphate rock deposits) that supply P may be disputed, what cannot be disputed is that the natural resources are finite that economically feasible efforts to reduce P losses and maximise recycling must be pursued. Contrary to fossil energy which may be substituted by other forms of energy, no other element can substitute for P in its various roles and functions in the animal and plant kingdom. The overall aim of Global TraPs III was to finalize the preparatory phase of the five-year Global TraPs effort (2010–2015). The workshop focussed on the critical aspects of sustainable phosphorus use along each segment of the supply chain—i.e. exploration, mining, processing, usage, recycling and trade & finance—through a transdisciplinary (Td) approach that promotes the sharing of information between all stakeholders active in each of these nodes of the supply chain.

Evaluation of inter- and transdisciplinary research –  Experiences and reflections on best practice
Td-Net: 14 – 16 Sept, Berne
In contrast to most disciplinary research practices, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects are characterised by a variety of disciplines and various practitioners in professional fields outside academia. As a consequence, general evaluation methods that have been developed for disciplinary work can only be used to assess specific disciplinary contributions but are hence not appropriate for assessing specific inter- or transdisciplinary goals, processes and achievements. Major challenges for evaluators of inter- and transdisciplinarity include making decisions about which dimensions to select and possibly rank when judging the quality of a project. In this regard, is it the ‘original’ contribution to a particular field, the potential for innovation, the quality of integration, the broader ‘social’ impact and the learning process itself, for example, which are of key importance. In general, what is missing are established frames of reference and bench marks against which performance and outcomes are measured. To map and examine these issues is a necessary first step for a systematic overview and critical review of the current methodologies as well as for setting an agenda for the evaluation of inter- and transdisciplinarity (ID and TD) as a tool for learning, improvement, innovation and excellence of this type of research. In light of these challenges, the three major aims of the conference were as follows:
1. to present the state-of-the-art of evaluation criteria, procedures and tools to measure the quality and potential for innovation of ID and TD research projects;
2. to critically review the values that underlie and drive those criteria and methods while respecting the plurality if scientific cultures and traditions; and
3. to identify and prioritise the problems and needs that pertain to quality assessment in all fields of ID and TD research, practice and teaching as well as those that arise in individual fields or disciplines