Transdisciplinary workshops on the impacts of urbanization on the food-energy-water nexus

The Belmont Forum, START, Future Earth, and regional partners organized two workshops on conducting transdisciplinary (TD) research in the first quarter of 2017. The workshops focused on advancing principles of co-design and co-production in the natural, social, and engineering sciences that address complex sustainability challenges associated with the Belmont Challenge. The first workshop was held at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University during 22-24 February 2017. The second workshop was held at Sustainability, Energy and Environment Complex at the University of Colorado Boulder during 1-3 March 2017.

These workshops aimed to advance skill development in TD research, as well as increasing aptitude for developing proposals with strong TD elements, which is a cornerstone of all the Belmont Forum’s multi-year Collaborative Research Action (CRA), including the recently launched call on urbanization and the food-energy-water nexus. Learning activities within each workshop were organized around a regionally relevant case study on the food-energy-water nexus.

Transdisciplinary research workshop Boulder

Boulder workshop participants. Photo by: Daniel Strain

The workshops were three-day events with approximately 25 participants per workshop. Specific learning objectives included:

  • Understand TD research in the context of urbanization and the food-energy-water nexus
  • Identify opportunities and barriers related to TD research and application
  • Explore how to broaden impacts by adopting TD process design
  • Acquire usable skills and competences on TD research, including building a TD team, collaborative problem framing, TD settings and roles of researchers and practitioners, integrative approaches and methods, and evaluating TD process and scientific and societal impacts.

Transdisciplinary Research: Science with Society

Reflections and recommendations from two transdisciplinary workshops

Stellenbosch, South Africa. March 2016

stellenbosch thumbnail JPGThe complex challenges facing the world today underline the need for effective transdisciplinary (TD) research specifically orientated to address ‘real-world’ problems that are too complex and multidimensional to be answered by singular research disciplines. START and partners organized two workshops to strengthen capacity in the development, use, and evaluation of TD approaches. The introductory training consisting of two back-to-back workshops was organized as an International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) activity, convened by START and the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University in partnership with the Transdisciplinary Lab at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Both trainings were made possible due to generous support of the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and the hosting of the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The introductory training workshops were designed for a broad audience and included researchers, research managers and funders, civil servants, government departments, and NGOs interested in learning about theories, methods, and examples of TD research. The objective was to transmit the principles of TD research and the various steps to follow; introduce the most frequent methods used; present case studies; include TD site visits, and introduce M&E tools. The curriculum for the introductory training program was developed and tested by researchers and practitioners with strong experience in doing, teaching, and writing about TD research.

The first 3-day national training took place 14-16 March 2016 and brought together 16 South African participants from the Stellenbosch University, NRF officials, representatives from governments, and local NGOs. The national training served as the first opportunity to engage with participants and test the developed curriculum. The training was followed by a day of reflection and evaluation by lead partners and facilitators to assess what worked and what didn’t. As a result, the course was modified wherever possible for the second training workshop that served as an official pilot, based on the experience of the first training and participant feedback. The 3-day regional pilot training program took place 21-23 March 2016 and brought together 16 participants from a variety of countries including: Angola, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Participants from the national and regional training were selected by the NRF.

More detail on the workshop program and recommendations are included in the full report, which can be downloaded as a PDF here. Please contact Sarah Schweizer at sschweizer@start.org for further information.

TD Stellenbosch 1