Understanding integration research

March 15th, 2021

Integrative approaches that include interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research are required to address complex applied problems, including to understand and manage cumulative impacts and uncertainty for socioecological systems research, and to facilitate multisector and multi-jurisdictional decision making. There is also an increasing need for such approaches in organisations like CSIRO, to complement existing disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches and frameworks, and to support and develop projects that address complex problems related to sustainable development.

Degrees of integration and stakeholder involvement in integrative and non-integrative approaches (from Tress et al. 2005)

The common feature of ‘integration’ distinguishes these practices from disciplinary-based approaches. Researchers in integration projects are often required to both contribute their unique expertise and work entirely outside their own discipline to understand the complexities of the whole project, rather than one part of it. Investigators transcend their own disciplines to inform one another’s work, capture complexity, and create new intellectual spaces, as well as opportunities for convergence and synergy.

Some useful ways to think about different forms of research integration

One useful way to understand the differences between disciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity is to think about the different kinds of relationships between research disciplines, non-research participants (e.g. stakeholders, managers, local-knowledge holders), and the goals of a research project.

Schematic representation of disciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity (from Tress et al. 2005)

Schematic representation of the relationship between aspects of research mode and problem characteristics, and how this relates to different forms of research integration (Source: Stone-Jovicich in prep and Stone-Jovicich et al. 2015).

Another useful way to understand the differences between these approaches is in the form of a two-dimensional space that is defined by both the research mode and the characteristics of the problem(s) that the research is trying to address.

Suggested reading

Bammer, G., M. O’Rourke, D. O’Connell, L. Neuhauser, G. Midgley, J. T. Klein, N. J. Grigg, H. Gadlin, I. R. Elsum, M. Bursztyn, E. A. Fulton, C. Pohl, M. Smithson, U. Vilsmaier, M. Bergmann, J. Jaeger, F. Merkx, B. Vienni Baptista, M. A. Burgman, D. H. Walker, J. Young, H. Bradbury, L. Crawford, B. Haryanto, C. Pachanee, M. Polk, and G. P. Richardson. 2020. Expertise in research integration and implementation for tackling complex problems: when is it needed, where can it be found and how can it be strengthened? Palgrave Communications 6:5. (and associated blog post)

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.

Tress, G., B. Tress, and G. Fry. 2005. Clarifying Integrative Research Concepts in Landscape Ecology. Landscape Ecology 20:479–493.