Science policy for transdisciplinary research

Kastenhofer, K., Omann, I., Stagl, S. & Steininger, K. (2003)

In: UNESCO (Ed.) Knowledge for Sustainable Development: An Insight into the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, Paris; London: Imprint (online version).

Sustainable development represents a challenge not only for science but also for science policy since it relates to such a large range of societal goals. Thus, research on sustainable development—in addition to monodisciplinary approaches—ultimately has to address and integrate these various goals. In order to do so, transdisciplinary research not only crosses disciplinary boundaries but also inevitably involves the publics concerned, the administration and individual stakeholders. While it has become evident that it is necessary to address sustainability problems jointly by a number of disciplines and actors, it is less evident, that transdisciplinary research needs new approaches and offers new opportunities and challenges.

New demands as well as potential problems of such transdisciplinary research also set new requirements for science policy. Despite increased recent endeavors, particularly in some European countries, to support transdisciplinary research through suitable policy measures, knowledge on how to support this type of research is still in its infancy.

In summary, the conclusions drawn in this article are the following: First, for fostering transdisciplinary research four prerequisites have to be met: the possibility of a top-down definition of the research area, the existence of societal demand for a problem solution, the possibility of a pooling of funding, and the willingness for institutional cooperation. Given these, science policy has to take account of the characteristics of transdisciplinary research by meeting the demands stated in this article in particular with respect to evaluation criteria, project management, funding level, and resource structure. Tertiary education for transdisciplinary competences can be influenced only indirectly by science policy. Yet, given an adequate time horizon for transdisciplinary research programs, policy can allow for complete career steps to be accomplished under the criteria of transdisciplinarity, and, equally important, allow for a socialization of researchers in this field so that they may develop the requisite social and communicative competences, which are additionally necessary for transdisciplinary research.

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