Transdisciplinary research and Participation - Common and Oikodrom Approaches
"The world has problems, but universities have departments" Brewer criticised 1999 sciences for their detachment of their research objects. Since then many concepts were developed to be able to solve upcoming complex societal issues. Science had to meet the public and to collaborate on societal relevant issues with society members. Transdiciplinarity is seen as one way towards it: "Transdiciplinarity is always related to something, it is connected with concrete societal problems and means a higher quality of a research process by integrating practice experience" (Jahn 2005: 32, trans. i.M.). One other example of a transdisciplinary research definition: "The core idea of transdisciplinarity is different academic disciplines working jointly with practitioners to solve a real-world problem" (Klein et al. 2001: 4).
Although there does not exist one standard definition, there are some characteristics of transdisciplinary research on which already exists an agreement. Here are its main components (cp. Bergmann 2005, Pohl/Hadorn 2006):
One basic characteristic of transdisciplinary research is its
- orientation on actors. Others would call it participatory research, but both are meaning the involvement of practitioners, people concerned, lay people or other identified groups of person who are affected.
Another important attribute is its
- connection to the practise, its strict orientation on lifeworld problems.
It is always about the research or the constitution of real processes, not only about theoretical models. And these definitions of problems are ideally elaborated commonly by the different participants and stakeholders.
The third one is
- its cross sectoral character. Meaning only different sciences working together or including politics or parts of the society is not yet commonly agreed.
The last one is
- its orientation on the context. It is about the generation of new knowledge which is strongly anchored in the lifeworld of the affected people. At the end of the research process, the new knowledge should be integrated as well in the scientific community as in the field of practise and should lead to practical problem solutions on one hand and to a new cross-sectoral knowledge on the other hand.
Current transdisciplinary research has developed a phase model of a research process that includes the main characteristics which I have mentioned above. Thomas Jahn from the institute for social-ecological research in Frankfurt distinguishes three phases in this model (cp. Jahn 2005):
1. the constitution of a common object of research
2. the organisation of a cognitive integration process along the whole research process and
3. the transdiciplinary integration at the end of the project
For the first phase it is important to define a common object of research, for this starting phase it is necessary to form the research team which should not only be composed by all for the research question relevant disciplines, but also with the "passende Personen aus der Praxis" (Bergmann 2005 : 17).
Phase 2 of a transdisciplinary research concerns mainly the management of the project and the applied methods. The most important thing in this phase is the development of new knowledge or the combination and integration of existing scientific and practical knowledge. This is the main phase, including as much feed back loops as necessary to integrate every thing and will therefore take much time accordingly.
In phase 3 the results will be brought together and products will be presented. The results should now be implemented and show definitley the gained added value for both the practicioners - the society - and the scientists.
The so called In-Wert-Setzung is seen as unconditional element of transdisciplinary research and has to be worked out at the end of every research process.
Bergmann, Matthias (Hg) (2005): Qualitätskriterien transdisziplinärer Forschung. Leitfaden für die Evaluation von Forschungsprojekte. ISOE-Studientexte, Nr. 13, Frankfurt am Main
Jahn, Thomas (2005): Soziale Ökologie, kognitive Integration und Transdisziplinarität. Technikfolgenabschätzung - Theorie und Praxis, 14 (2), S 32-38
Klein, J.T. et al (2001): Transdisciplinarity : Joint Problem Solving among Science, Techonology, and Society. Synthesebücher, SPP Environment, Basel, Birkhäuser Verlag
Pohl, Christian/Hirsch Hadorn, Gertrude (2006): Gestaltungsprinzipien für die transdisziplinäre Forschung, München
Transdisciplinary research at Oikodrom
Oikodrom has worked out a certain approach of "transdisciplinary research". This term we understand to mean scientists working together with non scientists and tending to transfer scientific results into praxis, but also gaining scientific results from first hand in close relationship to those persons or group of persons we are working with. Transdisciplinary research always seeks for the participation of people concerned. So one major aspect within transdisciplinary research is the participation of non scientists who are willing to engage themselves in issues about they have certain internal knowledge. By this they are assumed to be experts of their own "Lebenswelt", who have all insider-knowledge necessary for decisions about topics of which they are affected.
This approach is based on the general assumption that inviting the public to be part of decision making processes improves the likelihood that the resulting decision will be considered appropriate (Renn et al, 1995) and thusly is more acceptable.
Participation is also empowering because it means people are taking an active role in defining their own interests and potentials to achieve both a heightened awareness for their local conditions and a strengthened capacity for self-reliance (Ondrusek et.al, 2003).
We consider the main principles of transdisciplinary research as the reduction of complexity by determining relevant actors and relations and integrating them into the process. It also contains the recursivity of the process, which in feed back loops looks for a reflexive validation of methods and results. It is furthermore seeking for integration of equalised perspectives by dealing with all participants as partners. We try to achieve more effectiveness by concrete anchoring to their "Lebenswelt" (Habermas 1981). Based on Habermas' theory of communicative action we are talking about lifeworld of people, in which they share agreements and common convictions and functions and they have a communicatively shared intersubjectivity. In our projects we came to the following definition:
Participation means working together with persons who are seen as partners who are experts of their "Lebenswelt".
Following this approach, the aim is to exceed the context of the scientific community by integrating other systems, like policy makers and concerned people on the spot. For this we have assigned several tools in order to combine the outside knowledge of the scientific consortium and the inside knowledge of relevant local stakeholders, like dwellers and authorities. Around case studies and their neighbouring districts, for example, we would conduct a participatory community process which involves interested persons for manifold reasons: to bring in their indigenous knowledge into the common project knowledge pool, to consider their wishes, interests and perception of constraints, as well as to implement an empowering process that aims at self organisation processes in each neighbourhood community.
Therefore the implementation of participatory processes in case study sites is one main goal.
To organise this participatory process with the local partners and to establish the communication between the two streams of knowledge, we nominate so called case study contact persons within the project's consortium. They conduct the processes in their respective case study neighbourhood and exchange their experiences as group at each integration conference.
Within these meetings, it was very important to find a common understanding about this definition, about its importance, possibilities and limits. It became obvious that not only the respective case study contact persons were responsible for the participatory processes on site, but that all researchers also depended on the will for collaboration of the local dwellers and stakeholders.
Oikodrom has developed a Sustainability Negotiation Process in order to combine outside and inside knowledge under the regime of sustainability. Activating methods, self-evaluation criteria and several feedback loops between the scientific consortium and local residents aim by this at integrated decisions, finally made by the concerned persons themselves.
Participatory data survey methods
-PRA methods: For the data collection we have applied several participatory appraisal methods, like: Nosing around, participant observation, transect walks, historic timeline, mobility maps etc.
-Community activities: Men and women meetings, workshops, exhibitions, documentation activities
As one part of transdisciplinary research processes is a target group suitable form of presenting results at the end of each field study visit, the research groups presented their preliminary results to an interested public and invited stakeholders. Handwritten posters and graphics, photos, videos were exhibited and discussed with the audience. The feedback and comments were collected and discussed within the research group afterwards.