Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research: finding the common ground of multi-faceted concepts

  • Henrik von WehrdenEmail author
  • Maria Helena Guimarães
  • Olivia Bina
  • Marta Varanda
  • Daniel J. Lang
  • Beatrice John
  • Fabienne Gralla
  • Doris Alexander
  • Dorit Raines
  • Allen White
  • Roderick John Lawrence
Case Report
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Concepts, Methodology, and Knowledge Management for Sustainability Science


Inter- and transdisciplinarity are increasingly relevant concepts and research practices within academia. Although there is a consensus about the need to apply these practices, there is no agreement over definitions. Building on the outcomes of the first year of the COST Action TD1408 “Interdisciplinarity in research programming and funding cycles” (INTREPID), this paper describes the similarities and differences between interpretations of inter- and transdisciplinarity. Drawing on literature review and empirical results from participatory workshops involving INTREPID Network members from 27 different countries, the paper shows that diverse definitions of inter-and transdisciplinarity coexist within scientific literature and are reproduced by researchers and practitioners within the network. The recognition of this diversity did not hinder the definition of basic requirements for inter- and transdisciplinarity. We present five basic units considered as building blocks for this type of research. These building blocks are: (1) creation of collective glossaries, (2) definition of boundary objects, (3) use of combined problem- and solution-oriented approaches, (4) inclusion of a facilitator of inter-and transdisciplinary research within the team and (5) promotion of reflexivity by accompanying research. These were considered five basic units for effective inter- and transdisciplinary research although the 4th building block was also considered as “matrix” that holds all the others together.


Interdisciplinarity Transdisciplinarity Research-practice Collaboration INTREPID 



We are grateful to the EU for funding the COST INTREPID Workshop (TD 1408). We are grateful to the University of Lisbon for hosting the workshop on which this paper is based and for all the members of INTREPID cost action that are listed in The work of Helena Guimarães was supported by the Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology (Grant Number SFRH/BPD/95556/2013). We are extremely grateful for the reviewers and the editor who substantially helped to improve the quality and framing of this paper.

Supplementary material

11625_2018_594_MOESM1_ESM.docx (302 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 302 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henrik von Wehrden
    • 1
    Email author return OK on get
  • Maria Helena Guimarães
    • 2
  • Olivia Bina
    • 3
    • 4
  • Marta Varanda
    • 5
  • Daniel J. Lang
    • 1
  • Beatrice John
    • 1
  • Fabienne Gralla
    • 1
  • Doris Alexander
    • 6
  • Dorit Raines
    • 8
  • Allen White
    • 9
  • Roderick John Lawrence
    • 7
  1. 1.Faculty of SustainabilityLeuphana University LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  2. 2.LInstituto de Ciências Agrárias e Ambientais Mediterrânicas (ICAAM)University of Évora, Núcleo da MitraÉvoraPortugal
  3. 3.Instituto de Ciências SociaisUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Geography and Resource ManagementThe Chinese University of Hong KongSha TinHong Kong
  5. 5.SOCIUS/Instituto Superior de Economia e GestãoUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  6. 6.Trinity College DublinUniversity of DublinDublinIreland
  7. 7.Geneva School of Social SciencesUniversity of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland
  8. 8.Dipartimento di Studi UmanisticiUniversità Ca’ FoscariVeniceItaly
  9. 9.College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social SciencesUniversity College CorkCorkIreland

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