Transdisciplinary Research: Breaking Barriers and Building Delta Resilience Together
From pandemics, to rising sea-levels and wealth disparity. The world’s challenges are becoming more complex and urgent. Can these problems be tackled by experts alone, or is it time for a radical new approach? At the end of March, the Inter- and Transdisciplinarity (ITD) community gathered at the “The Missing Link – A Methodological Intervention” conference to explore the crucial role of integrating diverse knowledge and perspectives to build resilient communities worldwide. “We are reaching a tipping point where the community at large is ready.”
Nikki Brand, the Scientific Coordinator for the Resilient Delta Methodology theme, opens the day with a clear message: we should do more to innovate and experiment beyond the traditional ways in which we conduct research. While inter- and transdisciplinary research has been on the agenda since the 1990s, tangible results have been limited. However, the tide is about to change.
A radical addition
Brand started the Methodology theme for the Resilient Delta Initiative nearly two years ago. The goal was to introduce a methodological intervention aimed at testing methods for the integration of insights and approaches in a wide disciplinarity setting. In this time, the first Gluon Researcher has been introduced to the knowledge ecosystem, the Methodology-pilot successfully formed the basis for the impulse-program “Integration Expertise”, and three impulse-studies were launched.
The Gluon Researcher proves to be a revolutionary, tangible new addition to the knowledge eco-system. The main goal of this new scientific character is to be a binding factor; working alongside a group of academic and professional experts looking for blind spots and solutions to minimize the distance between the different fields of expertise. As of today, two Gluon Researchers are actively at work in the academic community, turning theory into practice. Brand: “The gluons are probably the most radical innovation that we have right now as a knowledge production community. We are serious about this. People are talking the talk, but not walking the walk. We are.”
The gluons are probably the most radical innovation that we have right now as a knowledge production community. We are serious about this. People are talking the talk, but not walking the walk. We are.
All levels of changemaking
Shifting to an inter- and transdisciplinary working style is no easy feat. It is not simply a matter of more collaboration, ITD asks for an academic paradigm shift. Johnathan Subendran, the first ever Gluon Researcher, emphasizes the need for change. “The Gluon is not just a role, it’s a movement that we have to collectively believe in. It does not just require personal openness but also institutional. All levels of changemaking have to be in place.”
This sentiment was echoed by research done by Els Leclercq, who leads the impulse program ‘Citizen’s engagement in the Resilient Delta’. Some of the key takeaways she presented stated that in its current form, academic researchers can hardly make a positive societal impact due to the systems of funding, validation and accreditation. An overhaul is needed for research to be adapted according to local and international urgencies.
Taking the next step forward
The panel, including Michiel van den Hout (KIN), Maarten Nypels and Arjan van Timmeren (TUD) reflected on the history of inter- and transdisciplinary research. A question arose from the audience, highlighting how the academic world has been trying to create greater collaboration between disciplines, mostly with limited success. Van Timmeren responded truthfully, “We might not have always reflected on our own failings, but we can change that now.”
Subendran emphasizes that the core of the Gluon programme is not new, but a direct product of decades long research. “We are not reinventing the wheel here. We are building on the shoulders of a lot of ideas, centuries of combining knowledge. This is a part of a larger journey, and I’m happy to take that next step forward,” he added.
Learning how to overcome disconnect
One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote speech by David Abbink, who serves as a senior lecturer At TU Delft where he conducts research on human-machine interaction. He leads a lab that connects fundamental science to societal challenges in fields such as transport, energy, and healthcare. He emphasized the importance of creating a shared ambition and fostering communalities through learning and exploring different types of connections. “Transdisciplinary research is more important now than ever, as we need to address complex challenges that require a wide range of expertise and perspectives.” Ending his inspiring talk with the words “transdisciplinary is learning how to overcome disconnect.”
For Nikki Brand, the conference proved a way to do just that. Participants exchanged ideas, explored new methodologies and connected through one another’s experiences. Overall, the day was a testament to the power of collaboration and the importance of developing integrated knowledge to address complex societal challenges. “The time is now to pursue ITD in an aggressive manner. In different parts of the community, they are simultaneously reaching the same consensus: we should do more to innovate and experiment beyond the traditional academic ways. We are reaching a tipping point where the community at large is ready.”
Attend the upcoming webinar
On May 17th, a follow-up webinar will be hosted from 13:00-14:45 to dive deeper into the topic of integration expertise. Speakers Sabine Hoffman and Christian Erik Pohl are the international experts on inter- and transdisciplinary research. They will share their insights and experiences, and will be available to answer any questions you may have.
This webinar is perfect for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of integration expertise, we encourage all members of our community to attend. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Registration to secure your spot on May 17th will open shortly.