Webinar recording: Transdisciplinarity – the challenge for responsible science and innovation

Close up view of someone at a panel taking notes on paper

Matthias Kaiser (Professor Emeritus at University of Bergen and Academic Associate of Koi Tū) discussed transdisciplinarity – the challenge for responsible science and innovation.

Download presentation slides here

Academics may have noticed that some research projects now appear under the heading of being “transdisciplinary” and sometimes, funders now ask for such projects. However, it is often unclear what that label signifies in practice.

It is supposed to be more than “interdisciplinary”, and more than merely having some engagement activities. But how to interpret the “trans,” which means beyond? There is a danger that the term ends up as mere jargon without significant changes in research design and as such, does not encourage the very intent of such research to be actionable and owned by stakeholders.

Professor Kaiser chairs the International Science Council’s working group on transdisciplinarity. His talk will outline how the concept of transdisciplinarity is evolving and identify the key elements of such research.

This relatively new research mode is important because it recognises today’s major challenges are inherently complex and societal changes will only occur if change also occurs in people’s minds.

Integrating other knowledge systems, diverse societal values, and different experiences are needed from a project’s outset if research is to contribute to societal change. The use of such approaches requires time and attention to processes beyond those of normal science and social science.


Part 1 “Why transdisciplinarity?”

Discussion and questions

Part 2 “Difficulties in implementing transdisciplinarity”

Discussion and questions

Who will be interested?

This webinar is ideal for scientists, researchers, academics, students, people who work to support the science system and those who have an interest in new research approaches.

The concept of transdisciplinarity

Transdisciplinarity is clearly separated from other forms of academic collaboration (as e.g. multi-, or inter-disciplinarity). It does not imply any kind of new super-theory, new epistemology, or revolutionary methodology. However, it implies a different approach to solving complex societal and mostly “wicked” problems. The crucial difference lies in the conception and task of the partnerships that work together towards a mutually recognised solution.

The solution must be fit-for-purpose and respect basic value conceptions (“value-landscapes”) in society. Transdisciplinarity always implies a multi-actor approach with openness about which beliefs, knowledge, and value systems are considered relevant. Knowledge systems not only demand inclusion of social science and humanities, but also extra-scientific belief systems like indigenous knowledge.

Genuine citizen participation is a cornerstone in transdisciplinarity. Developing a common language is one of the primary tasks of such partnerships. The partnerships recognise a shared social responsibility to respect and work towards common or important social values, respecting and enhancing democratic legitimacy. A precondition of transdisciplinarity is that all involved need to be open to self-reflection and willing to explore their own biases and those of others. The aim is to either eliminate these biases or at least recognise their constructive contribution to mutually endorsed solutions.

About the speaker

Professor Matthias Kaiser, a philosopher of science, is an international expert in trandisciplinarity and how science, society and policy interact. He is the former Director of the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and Humanities at the University of Bergen, Norway. He has studied at the Universities of Munich, Oslo, Stanford and Frankfurt. Matthias is an expert in technology assessment, the ethics of science and the philosophy of science, and has served as director of the Norwegian National Committee for Research Ethics in the Sciences and Technology, advising government, parliament and the scientific community. He chairs the International Science Council’s working group on transdisciplinarity.

Koi Tū Director and President of the International Science Council Sir Peter Gluckman has worked with Matthias for many years. Matthias is an Academic Associate of Koi Tū. He visits NZ regularly and is a co-author of several Koi Tū publications.

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