Transdisciplinary Knowledge Co-production: What is it and why is it important?

Transdisciplinary knowledge co-production involves actors from different sectors

Illustration: adapted from G. Haysom, African Centre for Cities University of Cape Town

Multiple actors

Transdisciplinary knowledge co-production refers to collaboratively based processes where multiple actors and groups come together to share and create knowledge that can be used to face the sustainability challenges of today, while increasing capacity to societal problem-solving in the future. The theoretical and cumulative foundations of scientific knowledge are combined with other types of knowledge, know-how, and practical expertise from lay people, businesses, civil society, practitioners, and politicians.

The transdisciplinary working mode

Transdisciplinary co-production aims for an open knowledge production process, where traditional types of linear knowledge production are replaced by co-owned, co-led, and co-produced processes that are based on continual and in-depth collaboration between different actors.

Whereas interdisciplinarity refers to the crossing of academic disciplines, transdisciplinarity goes further and includes actors from different sectors.


Interested in more theory?
Watch the lecture by Dr. Christian Pohl from ETH Zurich at Mistra Urban Futures Research School: "Handling different knowledges and roles in transdisciplinary research?" (Session 1, 36:30min and Session 3, 34:03min)

The difference between disciplinary, multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary working modes

llustration: The differences between multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary work modes, slightly adapted from Vogel, Nina (2019) MO-BO as a transdisciplinary project: unpacking transdisciplinarity in practice. In: Mo-Bo. Mobilitetstjänster banar väg för nytänkande arkitektur. Viable Cities Project Report, p. 72-73.


A variety of context-specific methodologies

A multiplicity of methods is used in transdisciplinary co-production. Their use needs to fit and be sensitive to the specific context and circumstances of the real-life issue and associated research endeavour.

Urban challenges and Td knowledge co-creation

Cities provide basic services, transport, employment, education, and health care, and at the same time also must deal with climate change, crime and violence, poverty, environmental degradation, segregation, and economic depression. Many of these complex challenges are characterised by high degrees of fragmentation in administrations, sectors, and decision-making levels. The challenges of creating more sustainable and resilient cities not only require stakeholder participation and interaction. They also exceed the limits of traditional academic research and conventional notions of science–society and science–policy interactions, where knowledge production and decision-making happen independently from one another in a linear manner. Such challenges call for approaches to knowledge production and problem solving that are able to harness and engage the different values, knowledge, and expertise of the involved stakeholders effectively.

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