Transdisciplinary research

Added value for science

Transdisciplinary research aims to make a contribution to the understanding and promotion of social change. These societal effects account for the popularity of the research mode that involves different scientific disciplines as well as non-scientific actors. But how does the transdisciplinary research mode actually affect science? Lena Theiler and Oskar Marg from ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research have analyzed the added value of transdisciplinary research for science. They have now published their observations in a peer-reviewed article in the journal “Research Evaluation”. 

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Abstraktes Netzwerk (©iStock.com/natrot)
Abstraktes Netzwerk (©iStock.com/natrot)

For their article “Effects of transdisciplinary research on scientific knowledge and reflexivity”, the two ISOE researchers Lena Theiler and Oskar Marg interviewed scientists from three disciplines with experience in both disciplinary and transdisciplinary research. Theiler and Marg asked the scientists from environmental sociology, sustainable chemistry and participatory health research: “What are the scientific effects of the transdisciplinary (TD) research mode? Does it benefit science, and if so, in what way?” These questions address a gap in scientific literature that has so far focused almost exclusively on the social effects of transdisciplinary research. 

Societal effects are obvious and intended in TD research as it investigates complex, real-world issues. The aim is to obtain practical and applicable knowledge that societies need in order to make processes and situations more sustainable. To this end, the knowledge and perspectives of different scientific disciplines and stakeholders are drawn upon and systematically integrated into the research process. The societal effects that can thus be achieved include changes to communication processes or to infrastructures. Such effects can for example be initiated in real-world laboratories.

A research mode with social and scientific impacts 

But how does TD research affect science? Based on the qualitative interviews, Theiler and Marg came to the conclusion that transdisciplinary research also has the potential to bring about changes in science. Effects can be seen in three areas: In their study, the two researchers were able to identify positive changes in the understanding of scientific problems, as well as improvements in the quality of scientific findings and, in addition, an increased reflexivity among the interviewees towards their scientific work. 
The interplay of socio-political and scientific-analytical research and decision-making processes, as is typical of the transdisciplinary research mode, can therefore not only produce applicable knowledge for practice, but also new insights for science. For Theiler and Marg, the fact that TD research can simultaneously sharpen the view and thinking of researchers in relation to their own discipline as well as the entire scientific system presents an added value for science that emphasizes the attractiveness of this research mode for science. 

Publication

Marg, Oskar/Lena Theiler (2023): Effects of transdisciplinary research on scientific knowledge and reflexivity. Research Evaluation, rvad033 
https://academic.oup.com/rev/advance-article/doi/10.1093/reseval/rvad033/7335870 

Scientific contact:

Lena Theiler 
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-56
 

Dr. Oskar Marg 
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-26
 

Press contact:

Melanie Neugart
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-51
neugart(at)isoe.de 
www.isoe.de