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Open Access Ten Reflective Steps for Rendering Research Societally Relevant


While the goal of transdisciplinary research is to be relevant to society, specific instructions for accomplishing this remain implicit. We propose to improve this situation by means of a 10-step approach aimed at stimulating explicit reflections around ways to render research more societally relevant.

Today, there is an increasing need for researchers to demonstrate the practical value their research can generate for society. Over the past decade, experts in transdisciplinary research have developed numerous principles, methods, and tools for making research more societally relevant. If researchers are unfamiliar with transdisciplinary research, they may miss opportunities to adapt these principles and tools to their research projects. We are developing a 10-step approach for joint use by transdisciplinarity experts and researchers about how to best align their research projects with the requirements of transdisciplinarity. We have successfully applied this approach in numerous workshops, summer schools, and seminars at ETH Zurich and beyond. Ten questions guide discussions between transdisciplinarity experts and researchers around research issues, identify and review the societal problems addressed, identify relevant actors and disciplines, and clarify the purpose and form of the interaction with them. The feedback we have obtained clearly indicates that the 10-step approach is a very useful tool: It provides a systematic procedure for thinking through ways to better link research to societal problem solving.

Keywords: 10-step approach; actor involvement; functional-dynamic interaction; interdisciplinarity; science-society interface; sustainability research; teaching; thought styles; transdisciplinarity; wicked problems

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2017

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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