Wednesday, 28 January 2009

trandisciplinary engagement and collaboration

People have been asking me what 'transdisciplinary' engagement is all about, and since I am thinking about this at the moment while collating some research for a client I will be self-indulgent and actually blog a decent amount of text on the subject:-)

what is it?

 Essentially transdisciplinary engagement exists in the space between traditional specialisms and disciplines.  It is the point where people not only bring their expertise and experience to the table, but simultaneously transcend this to engage in new, ungenreable activities and actions in collaboration with others. 

 why it important right now?

 Healthy, collaborative relationships have always been a major key to success in any enterprise, and are the bedrock to society. But why is transdisciplinary collaboration particularly important right now?

 Parallel to the development of global telecommunication networks and media, there has been a strong global trend evident to network, and collaborate, across traditional boundaries of sector, geography, discipline, and religion.

 The degree of percieved complexity, in our lives has increased to the point where finite understandings or boundaries are almost obsolete, except for very few manufacturing and administrative tasks and processes. 

 The  'known' world has become increasingly 'unknowable'. 

 The growth of sophisticated online social networking and media tools (eg. Ning, Linked inFacebook, Youtube, flickr) has allowed us to build maps to navigate complex global relationships, and to bridge geographic distance. Also to work in ways that were never though possible previously. They have also meant that traditional notions of knowledge and truth are no longer valid, or at least very unstable. (Especially when faced with constructivist tools such as 'wikipedia' where knowledge is collaboratively generated rather than disseminated by 'experts').

 Social media has allowed other people's stories to be heard and shared in our own living room, making it very difficult to live in a world where environmental, social, economic and cultural crisises are 'other people's problems' and 'out of site and out of mind'.

 Also a number of interventions and solutions are needed to engage with the incredibly complex nature of the crises facing us. Climate change, poverty and conflict are interwoven, and caused by thousands of different actions. They are also spawned from a way of thinking that has dominated our plant since the enlightenment, thinking based on seperatist reality and fixed, objective truth.  To deal with issues such as climate change, interventions need to join and transcend current disciplines rather than be formed within each of them seperately. 

What helps?

 There are a number of factors that support trandisciplinary collaboration in my experience these include:

  • some shared passion or interest e.g. climate change
  • organisational committment and support for the individuals participating
  • adequate resources, including time
  • a reasonably high degree of communication skills
  • a commitment to participation and equity, coupled with an understanding of power and rank differentials
  • a committment to understanding and learning from interpersonal process as much as the content
  • some degree of meta-reflective capacity and self awareness - i.e. the ability to look at ones actions and assumptions from a distance
  • the presence of intermediaries that support interaction and process not just manage content eg. facilitators and brokers like Foam, Brussels


While one off events are helpful, the deepest, and most sustainable transdisciplinary work is based on long term partnerships applied to practical projects and issues.


Would welcome your thoughts to the above....

1 comment:

Cheri said...


So why am I still in awe when synchroncity occurs--it still delights me!

I just read an article on transdiciplinary dialogue and all the way through it I was thinking--hey, someone coined a term for what we are doing and advocating. Just yesterday I was revising a workbook for a seminar that Sallie and I are doing and suggested we use the term transdisciplinary--the subject of the seminar is Sustainable Collaboration!

Your blog is so right on target, I think. And written so beautifully!