This term has been growing in use over the past decade or so and I wanted to spend a minute explaining how I like to use the term.
There are two important aspects. First, it refers to scholarship from several disciplines that is applied to solve problems that cannot be solved by the application of one discipline alone. Second, it refers to the adoption and development of concepts and methodologies developed in one discipline by other disciplines that are engaged in solving a problem. Thus there is a merging or synthesis of knowledge and techniques from many disciplines for the purpose of creatively solving a problem that has perplexed existing institutions. For me and for others, there is an added expectation that solving this problem will benefit the public good, not merely a private interest.
A key to transdisciplinary research – also known as transdisciplinary problem solving – is that the "knowledge experts" interact together as equals. No one discipline is superior; all are valued. Individual knowledge experts work together in an egalitarian, horizontal working team that communicates using dialogic principles grounded in fairness and equity.
Transdisciplinary research and problem solving is difficult and time-consuming. Participants need competence in their domain of expertise, but they also need to be receptive to ideas and techniques that are not part of their disciplinary tool kit. They need to be creative problem-solvers who are oriented toward serving the public good. Communicatively they need to be good listeners and effective speakers.
Transdisciplinary teams coordinate with non-academic partners and recognize that valuable knowledge can come from many different sources. Obstacles to transdisciplinary research among university personnel are: disciplinary arrogance, disciplinary blindness, reward structures that promote disciplinary silos, lack of time to commit to projects of indeterminate durations, and distance from the applied problem setting. Obstacles among applied practitioners are: operational silos, fear of unconventional solutions, hard-wired problem definitions.
Transdisciplinary thinking and projects offer the promise to break apart ossified ways of thinking about problems, and it offers news ways to conceptualize contemporary problems. It recognizes that academic disciplines have value that is largely shaped by conditions of the past and today’s critical problems need novel approaches.
directs research at the Energy Trans Lab