for sustainable development


Research projects at ISOE are designed and carried out in transdisciplinary manner. That means, first of all, that both the social and the natural sciences contribute to the results of our research. And, secondly, it means that we include the practical experience and knowledge of our partners from society, politics and the economy in our work.

Research on complex issues

Transdisciplinary research and work is necessary because the problems facing our world today are becoming ever more complex. Globalization, climate change and demographic transitions exemplify problems with a novel structure: within them societal actions and ecological effects are so tightly intertwined that the boundaries between society and nature become more and more blurred.

Such social-ecological problems are characterized by the complexity of their cause and effect processes. The latter occur at different spatial, temporal and societal scales – from local to global, from current events to long-terms consequences, from everyday activities to global political regimes and multinational organizations. In the face of such complex and multi-scalar problems the various disciplines of mainstream science run up against their limits.

Research as joint learning process

Transdisciplinary research designs and organizes research as a joint learning process involving science and society – a process that proceeds reflexively. In dealing with complex societal problems transdisciplinary research transcends the boundaries separating disciplines and scientific fields, as well as the boundaries between scientific knowledge and relevant practical knowledge.

A prerequisite of transdisciplinary work is that societal actors involved in the problem be involved in the research process as well. Their views on the problem and their everyday, practical knowledge are merged with scientific ways of posing problems and producing knowledge. By means of this integration of knowledge the connectivity of the research results to both science and society is guaranteed. In this way it is possible to produce new scientific knowledge and and formulate new scientific questions, as well as coming up with strategies for societal action that have practical relevance for dealing with today's complex problems.

Uncertainty of knowledge

The question of which societal circumstances are problematic cannot be decided solely on the basis of a set of scientific criteria of objectivity, but must also take into account interests and values. What is perceived in society, or in a given societal sector, as problematic depends on the access societal actors involved have to the knowledge available. And that in turn depends on what value actors give to such knowledge.

As complexity grows so does uncertainty with respect to knowledge. Such uncertainty creates a conflict, because the societal expectation is that research provides reliable knowledge that can be used within the societal decision-making process. Transdisciplinary research deals head on with this problem of knowledge.

The ideal transdisciplinary research process

Download: The ideal transdisciplinary research process (pdf) - Explication of the model