Making transdisciplinarity happen: Phase 0, or before the beginning

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Both within science and society, transdisciplinary approaches are increasingly employed to address today's sustainability challenges. Often transdisciplinary research processes are structured in three core phases: a) problem identification and formation of a common research object; b) co-production of solution-oriented and transferable knowledge; c) embedding co-produced knowledge through transdisciplinary reintegration. In all phases of this ideal-typical model, the involvement of non-academic actors is essential to meet the challenges of real-world problems, and of transformative research practices. Despite existing guidance for the core transdisciplinary process, its initiation often remains an uncharted area because of its strong context dependency. Based on a concrete transdisciplinary case study addressing sustainability transformation in Transylvania, we bring together our learned experience with initiating a transdisciplinary process using a research-driven approach. To this end, we introduce the notion of Phase 0, as an initiating phase prior to beginning an ideal-typical transdisciplinary process. Within Phase 0, we propose three empirically and literature informed sub-phases: Sub-Phase 0.1) selecting the case study; Sub-Phase 0.2) understanding the case study context from a transdisciplinary perspective; Sub-Phase 0.3) fostering premises for coming together. We outline the general rationale behind these sub-phases, and we illustrate how we carried out each sub-phase in practice. By deriving cross-cutting lessons from the three sub-phases, we enhance the practice of transdisciplinary sustainability research with the aim to leverage its transformative potential.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Pages (from-to)187-197
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2022

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by the Volkswagen-Stiftung and the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenshaft und Kultur funded project “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation: Institutions, People and Knowledge” (Grant number A112269). This paper represents an integration output from a large transdisciplinary research project (Leverage points for sustainability transformation). Its production has only been possible with the input and participation of all project members, including practice partners, even when they are not listed as authors. Full details of project members and their research are available at AIHM acknowledges EU funding through the Marie Sklodowska-Curie felowship grant number 840207.

Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Co-creation, Co-design, Leverage points, Reflexivity, Sustainability initiatives, Sustainability transformation
  • Transdisciplinary studies