Tips and principles for integration research

March 15th, 2021

Some key tips for working with inter- and transdisciplinary teams on complex problems are:

  • Build shared motivation and sense of purpose within teams, recognising that this may be more difficult and require more time when bringing together people with very different worldviews and experience

  • Provide room to discuss issues and differences in philosophy and practice, particularly in early stages of team building

  • Give space for failure and adaptive learning

  • Building trust with stakeholders is key, but requires significant and sustained time investment

  • Once a conversation is started with stakeholders, keep it going

  • Ground concepts in the real-world through values and experience to facilitate learning and knowledge co-production

  • Communicate across knowledge systems using culturally diverse environments

  • Recognise and formalize knowledge-governance early, particularly for work with Indigenous and Local Knowledge holders

  • Ensure that you have adequately resourced all of the above in terms of project budget, timelines and competencies of project staff

Principles for effective inter- and transdisciplinary teamwork

  • A shared sense of purpose (and urgency) is an important and powerful motivation for effective and sustained inter- and transdisciplinary teamwork.
  • Patience, humour and flexibility are key elements for team efficacy.
  • Psychological safety is also a critical element in effective teams – people need to feel safe to say when they do not understand something, or feel like they want to challenge assumptions.

“Emphasise values of humility, curiosity and empathy in recruiting people, developing project direction and establishing team culture”

Principles underpinning effective stakeholder engagement and knowledge co-production

  • Building and maintaining trust with stakeholders takes a lot of time and requires sustained effort.
  • Use approaches such as Theory of Change to build shared vision
  • Acknowledge and legitimise the different objectives of partners and individuals on the team.
  • Develop and use guidance notes on how to present to and communicate with different stakeholder groups, using diverse approaches such as visual tools, animations and stories.
  • Construct opportunities for research participants to experience concepts underpinning the research. This can involve creating some tension in the participant that is resolved by a concept or tool.
  • The use of metaphors and stories/narratives is a powerful way of breaking down barriers to new ideas and entraining sense making and action.

Principles for project and knowledge governance

  • It is essential to establish project governance for transdisciplinary work, particularly with Indigenous and local knowledge holders, but also with other partners such as government and industry. Establishing committees with the right line of advice to the project will help to maximise the delivery of outcomes.
  • There is a need to recognise knowledge-governance, establish Steering Groups, and work to ensure these are legitimate.

Suggested reading

Grigg, N.J., K. Mokany, E. Woodward, R. Pirzl, C. S. Fletcher, M. E. Ahmad, and D. Lemon. 2020. CSIRO’s integrated national prediction, foresighting and scenarios capability. CSIRO, Australia.

Melbourne-Thomas, J. S. Mynott, D. O’Connell, I. van Putten, E. Plaganyi, B. Fulton, and A Hobday. 2021. Building capacity for interdisciplinary and integrative research in CSIRO. CSIRO, Australia.