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Session Overview
Interaction and/or integration? Discussing priorities for co-production
Wednesday, 11/Sep/2019:
1:40pm - 3:20pm

Session Chair: Judit Ungvari
Location: Antarktis
Conference Centre Wallenberg

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Interaction versus integration in transdisciplinary research

Dena Monique Fam1, Ronlyn Duncan2, Melissa Robson-Williams2, Zoe Sofoulis3

1University of Technology Sydney, Australia; 2Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, New Zealand; 3Western Sydney University, Australia

To address complex 21st century challenges we need interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research that brings together knowledge and expertise from different disciplines and sectors into processes of framing and analysing problems and developing measures to address them (Mauser, 2013; Stokols, 2006; Rockstrom, 2016). This paper questions the concept of knowledge integration, vaunted as the overarching goal of many interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects, and proposes an alternative: a ‘knowledge ecologies’ approach that brings into view the contexts of knowledge production and highlights the importance of thinking about the interactions that underpin successful knowledge integration. This presentation suggests a necessary precursor to initiating TD projects is to identify the context and environment in which knowledge, knowers and knowledge communities interact with each other – a step often missing in TD project planning.

Integration is often conceived of as reaching a cognitive consensus about a topic by group discussion, or even when some ‘social data’ is incorporated into a science project. In a positivist perspective on ‘integration’, different knowledges are treated as lego blocks that combine with other ‘data sets’ to create a unified structure (Fam and Sofoulis, 2017). These narrow conceptions of integration do not capture its diverse dimensions (Boix Mansilla, 2016), let alone other kinds of interactions between knowledges, including incommensurability. Nor do they appreciate the inherent challenges of making integration work in practice, such as deciding what is or is not counted as ‘evidence’ in a multi-disciplinary project. Simplistic ideas of ‘integration’ overlook the influence of social, political and cultural contexts within which integration is assumed to take place, and fail to capture the ontological and epistemic implications of these contexts for knowledge production. They can mislead proponents to think relevant integration has taken place when it is just another case of discursive domination (where positivist science is the Master Discourse).

A knowledge ecologies approach starts with an analogy between biodiversity and epistemological pluralism, where the optimum state is not epistemological monoculture but productive interactions amongst diverse knowers and knowledges. This approach seeks insight into how interactions between different knowledges and knowledge practitioners are shaped by contextual factors: the conditions of knowledge production, the research policy and funding climate, the distribution of research resources, and differential access to enabling infrastructures, networks and facilities.

In a conventional problem-centred approach, STEM experts define and identify the problem, and trial and propose a solution, bring other disciplines onto the team as needed, and perhaps at the end commission a bit of social research to help find out how to implement their solution. A knowledge ecologies approach not only encourages a diversity of knowledges and communities of knowers to get together at the outset to scope and define the problem (or more likely, cluster of related problems), but it can explore a range of responses and roles different interest groups might have in exploring or implementing solutions. There is no need to reduce everything down to a single ‘silver bullet’ or ‘one size fits all’ response

Vignettes and examples of how the knowledge ecologies framework has been used by the authors in projects/workshops in Australia, New Zealand and Alaska will provide a way of grounding the concept of ‘interaction’ in practice. Insights are offered on how the framework might be used in project design, planning and evaluation.

Finally, we pose the question to the audience as to whether knowledge ‘integration’ is possible desirable, or overrated, and ask for their suggestions or examples on how to foster productive interaction.

193-Fam-Interaction versus integration in transdisciplinary researchCS3.docx

Tracing the engagement of actors: The influence of rationales and infrastructure of transdisciplinary team formation

Kerstin Hemström1, Merritt Polk2, Henrietta Palmer1

1Chalmers University of Technology; 2Gothenburg University

Transdisciplinary and co-production research strives for collaboratively based knowledge processes in which academic researchers come together with other actors to share and create knowledge that can be used to address the sustainability challenges of today, while increasing capacity for societal problem-solving in future. A key issue is to form a transdisciplinary team, motivated by the desire to solve a reality-based problem. Ideally, everyone who has something to say about the problem and is willing to participate can play a role, from defining the problem area and research design, to exploring and realizing results.

Mistra Urban Futures is an international centre for sustainable urban development created in response to the need for new organizational forms that can blend knowledge and expertise within and across urban contexts. It operates through local interaction platforms in different cities, where local scientific and extra-scientific partners come together to facilitate and create favourable conditions for transdisciplinary co-production research projects. The core mission is to generate and use knowledge to support transitions towards sustainable urban futures (Polk, 2015; Perry et al., 2018). In this process, the engagement and participation of different actors is a key concern.

This presentation builds on a paper in which we trace rationales and infrastructures for participation in Mistra Urban Futures, discussing how they shape the enactment of transdisciplinary co-production research. To guide this investigation, we apply a framework developed by Metzger et al. (2017) which sheds light on how the situated interplay of rationales and infrastructures for participation determines who (and what) gets enacted as legitimately concerned. Based on empirical material related to the local interaction platform in Gothenburg, we use this framework to sketch out rationales and processes that enact legitimate concerns in different situations and at different functional levels; among those enabling the research to take place, and those performing it in practice.

This will lead us to a discussion on how the formation of transdisciplinary teams, typically motivated by a reality-based challenge, occurs in a social space where several interests and underlying rationales (e g political, cultural, epistemological, representational, economic and scientific) and infrastructures for participation interact. In the research project, the enactment of rationales is conditioned by the infrastructures set up at other functional levels (e.g., the platform, the funders, and the partnering organisations) as well as by the design and practice of the project. This may be an intrinsic condition for transdisciplinary coproduction research in this setting, ultimately influencing the potential to meet overarching rationales, and reach societally relevant and legitimate results.


Metzger, J., Soneryd, L. and Linke, S. 2017. Enacting Legitimate Concerns: An Agnostic Approach to Stakeholder Participation in Planning Processes. Environment and Planning A 49(11): 2517–2535

Perry, B., Patel, Z., Bretzer, Y. N., & Polk, M. 2018. Organising for Co-Production: Local Interaction Platforms for Urban Sustainability. Politics and Governance 6(1): 189

Polk, M. 2015. Transdisciplinary co-production: Designing and testing a transdisciplinary research framework for societal problem solving. Futures 65: 110–122.

239-Hemström-Tracing the engagement of actorsCS3.docx

What shapes stakeholders’ participation in transdisciplinary workshops? Towards a sociological concept of knowledge and interaction

Maurice Skelton1, Christian Pohl2

1ETH Zurich/MeteoSwiss,; 2ETH Zürich

Discussions on transdisciplinarity (td) and sustainability praise knowledge integration in face-to-face participation as a central element and core process. This presentation explores two often seperated challenges to such endeavours, and argues that they are in fact closely linked: (a) actors differ in recognising the relevance of a td topic for their work; and (b) actors differ in their willingness to discuss a certain topic within a td setting. Using a Swiss case study on ‘urban heat’ – which will increase with climate change – we empirically trace how these two challenges shape who participates in td workshops how.

(a). We conducted n=25 semi-structured interviews with experts from five sectors. These interviews give insights into how these actors perceive ‘urban heat’ and how it relates to their work. For instance, experts on building technology or urban greens gave detailed examples. Health specialists, however, often admitted that they haven’t considered the impact of urban heat yet.

(b). We invited interviewees to participate in n=2 td workshops. Participation was highest in those sectors recognising urban heat as an issue. Due to the topic’s relevance, some interviewees even asked if further colleagues could participate. Health experts, however, declined the workshop invitation most often. Two reasons were given for non-participation: First, experts didn’t recognise the topic’s relevance. Second, a minority declined because they didn’t approve of the style of discussion. Notably, one building technologist was unwilling to have open-ended discussions within an informal setting. He is very active as a project advisor, preferring thus formal settings with higher within-sector visibility and acknowledgement.

The challenges (a) and (b) can be rephrased as: How do people recognise relevant knowledge, and how does this knowledge influence social interactions? Sociological studies have highlighted the social dimension of knowledge transfer throughout the last century (cf. Durkheim, Fleck, Merton, Kuhn, Douglas, Latour). For instance, interviewees responded to the question ‘how does urban heat relate to your work?’ differently. The similarity of answers among building technologists or urban green specialists indicates a shared ‘thought style’ (Fleck). However, responses were often different among spatial planners or health officials. Two key aspects seem to drive this behaviour: (i) whether a key variable (e.g. temperature) is present in individuals’ ‘thought style’; and (ii) whether the td topic serves as a justification for individuals to continue their work similarly (or if the td topic constitutes ‘uncomfortable knowledge’ (Rayner 2012)).

Both (i) and (ii) apply to the sectors green space and building technology. These participants felt ‘comfortable’ participating in the td workshop on urban heat, gaining within-sectoral visibility and extra-sectoral legitimacy for their work. For health, on the other hand, neither (i) nor (ii) applies. While many health practitioners didn’t recognise heat as an issue, integrating urban heat would likely challenge current health priorities too.

Most people prefer approval to criticism. Microsociology has studied how people try hard to ensure a ‘good’ self performance in face-to-face engagements. If participants don’t meet both (i) and (ii), this public self performance is more difficult to achieve. Thus, analysing why people participated in (or dropped out of) workshops highlights how interconnected knowledge and social interactions are.

If sustainability is the goal, our results imply discussing the extent in which td workshops are able to integrate ‘comfortable knowledge’ with ‘uncomfortable knowledge’ more seriously. Or put differently, as face-to-face interactions are so delicate, in what form is critique possible in td workshops? Due to the dynamics of knowledge and interaction discussed here, maybe closed discussions within a sector are more adequate for ‘uncomfortable’ topics – at least to begin with.

272-Skelton-What shapes stakeholders’ participation in transdisciplinary workshops Towards a sociological c.docx

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