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Societal challenges – challenges for research

Watch Jakob Zinsstag explain how research may contribute to address complex societal challenges.
In today’s world, we face complex challenges. Climate change intensifies droughts and complicates issues of water management.
Migration or the decline in peripheral regions call for new concepts. Health threats like antibiotic resistance or the lack of healthcare for nomadic people need schemes that work, not only in order to ensure a human right but also to prepare for future risks.
These challenges are societal and complex. They are complex because they involve the perspectives of many people. [FRENCH SPEECH] There are those affected by the problem directly. There are those with the scientific tools to analyse them. There are those who hold the power to enable a solution. Which approaches may researchers use to address these challenges? This question is the focus of our course. In my daily work and research, I am faced with a lot of complex societal challenges. To me, these challenges seem on the rise, and we definitely need approaches that help to solve them, bringing together all actors involved.
In this course, you will explore an approach that brings together the scientists, decision-makers, and affected people. They cooperate as they analyse the problems, develop what they envision as desirable futures, and work on strategies and actions supporting the necessary changes. This approach is called ‘transdisciplinary research’.
Currently, I am the president of the Swiss network for transdisciplinary research, td-Net. It is our vision that every student and other interested actor should have the opportunity to learn how to do research that helps overcome complex societal problems. So we initiated this course. In this course, you will investigate the theoretical and methodological background of transdisciplinary research. You also have the opportunity to delve into five outstanding projects. In these case studies, scientists from different Swiss universities and research institutes let you participate as they address complex societal challenges.
The projects focus on such diverse issues as the healthcare situation of nomads in remote areas, water scarcity in the Alps, change processes in a mountain village driven by international tourism investors, labour migration, and global governance in relation to antimicrobial resistance. You will identify the three main phases and the steps used in transdisciplinary projects. There are important questions that will guide our journey through transdisciplinary research.
How should we frame a project and its goals? What actors are important? Who should be involved? What are potential challenges and pitfalls of transdisciplinary research projects? What are the ethical considerations that arise in research partnerships? How do transdisciplinary projects impact science and society? How can scientists from different disciplines and societal actors interact when they want to coproduce relevant knowledge? What types of knowledge are important? What could the coproduction of knowledge mean to you for your work, for your environment, for your career? The course was initiated and coordinated by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. They are home of the Transdisciplinary Research Network, td-Net.
td-Net and distinguished experts affiliated with Swiss research institutes and universities coproduced the journey that you will now undertake.
So a warm welcome to you from me and all the team. We look very much forward to engaging with you in this course.
This course answers a rising need to find research approaches that help address complex societal challenges. It advocates transdisciplinary research (TDR) – its methods, phases, and processes – as such an approach.

The journey that you now begin will allow you to get familiar with TDR. It is an important concept and you will gain insights not only in its methods and theories, but also in concrete cases. These case studies are presented by scientists from several Swiss research institutions and universities. They all welcome you to Week 1 of this exciting journey!

As the team of this course is convinced that TDR helps to tackle complex societal challenges, they are very enthusiastic to share their insights with you. They look forward to learning from you about how TDR might be relevant in your situation.

We look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.

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Partnering for Change: Link Research to Societal Challenges

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