When ISF began as an applied research group 20 years ago, we knew we were different. We were driven by wanting to create a positive change in the lived lives and experiences of people and nature. We wanted our research to have impact on messy situations that didn’t fit neatly into a disciplinary lens within a university.
That’s why ISF started by bringing on board economists, social scientists, engineers, community planners, agronomists, and many more. We felt that all of these diverse perspectives were needed to make sense of why these socio-technical-ecological challenges existed, and why traditional approaches seemed to only make them worse.
Importantly, we very quickly came to realise that it is not our multiple and diverse perspectives alone that are needed. How do the people who engage with these situations on a daily basis perceive it? Community, business, government, Traditional Owners?
Over the last 20 years, we have come to realise and define our approach as transdisciplinary. This means that we use the perspectives of the many to define the messy situation and explore these challenging situations in a collective and integrated way, in order that we can collaboratively find steps forward, or logs to shift, in the log-jam, so to speak.
For us, in essence, transdisciplinarity is a process of:
- Are we getting the beat of the system (to quote Donella Meadows): – what is happening in this complex situation, and who has an important perspective to share?
- What are the boundaries of this complex situation? How and why do we define them?
- What are the questions, or what is the inquiry that makes most sense in this space? What sense-making tools are best suited to explore these questions?
- How can we progress this inquiry, and integrate, and synthesise the findings in the most relevant way?
- What has been the impact of this process, and what are the implications for future projects?