The role of transdisciplinarity in building a decolonial bridge between science, policy, and practice

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  • Aymara Llanque Zonta
  • Johanna Jacobi
  • Stellah M. Mukhovi
  • Eliud Birachi
  • Per von Groote
  • Carmenza Robledo Abad

Transdisciplinary research is considered to offer contributions of science to sustainability transformations, partly because transdisciplinary approaches aim to increase the relevance, credibility, and legitimacy of scientific research by ensuring the active participation of non-academic actors in research. However, the possible impact of transdisciplinary research on decolonial sustainability science – understood as actively undoing Euro-North American centricity, dispossession, racism, and ongoing power imbalances in inequitable social-ecological systems – and simultaneous response to scientific rigor remain under debate. Thus, this article assesses the contributions of transdisciplinary research projects to decolonial sustainability science based on empirical information. To do so, we analyze a sample of 43 development research projects of the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (r4d programme) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We found that despite significant differences in approaches, Global-North-dominated sustainability science still has far to go to achieve the decolonial potential of transdisciplinarity, enabling different actors’ participation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)107-114
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 23.05.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgement: We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Funding: The financial support is part of the Swiss funding for science, called Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development, through the synthesis project on Utilisation of Research Knowledge, two-year contract (2019 to 2021) with the Center for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, CH. Competing interests: The authors declare no competing interests. Author contribution: ALZ, JJ, CRA: preparation of main ideas; SM, EB, PvG: methodological preparation; EB, PvG: data analysis; SM, EB, CRA: analysis of results; ALZ: conceptual and methodological description, integration of results; JJ: production of conceptual framework, development of results and interpretation of data; SM: conceptual reflection; PvG: analysis of contextual results; CRA: methodological, conceptual and results review.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors; licensee oekom. This Open Access article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY).

    Research areas

  • decoloniality, participation, research for sustainable development, transdisciplinarity, use of knowledge
  • Transdisciplinary studies