Bridging transdisciplinarity and action research

Blog post by Steven Lam

Transdisciplinarity brings a focus on real-world problems. Action research focuses on solutions. Yet, both transdisciplinarity and action research share similar principles such as reflexivity and participation. How, then, might transdisciplinarity and action research ‘speak’ to each other?

Our group of four graduate students and one community partner reflected on our experiences of working together on a community food security project. As neither of us had previously worked together, nor shared disciplines in common, we found it essential to first develop a guiding framework for collaboration. Our thinking, which revolved around transdisciplinarity and action research, led us to develop the transdisciplinary action research framework.

Image description: a small group of people sit outside at a picnic table overlooking a body of water and in front of a large, stone building.







We found that applying the framework supported the development of shared purposes, mutual responsibility, and meaningful relationships. One main concern with the framework, however, was not achieving the full integration of our disciplines and practices. Yet, transdisciplinarity has offered us important insights into engaging with complex sustainability problems and integrating diverse knowledge systems. Overall the framework helped us, to a ‘good enough’ extent, integrate different knowledge which led to the co-publication of the Farmer-led Research Guidebook, of what we perceived to be a high level of collaborative effort and useful to all of us.

For us, reflecting has made a substantial difference in the quality of our work. If you have engaged in collaborative research, what guiding framework did you use? What challenges did you face and how did you solve them? Finally, what was the most important lesson you learned?