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How this course works

In this article, Tobias Buser explains how the course about transdisciplinarity is structured and the paths learners may take as they go through it.
Transdisciplinary research (TDR) is in itself a complex endeavour. However, theory and methodology are best illustrated with examples. Our course, thus, uses cases to this end.

It presents TDR as a living experience. With a sound theoretical and methodological background, five outstanding projects illustrate promising and different ways of dealing with complex societal challenges. The projects address:

  • healthcare situation of pastoralists in remote areas,
  • water scarcity in the Alps,
  • labour migration,
  • global governance in relation to antimicrobial resistance
  • coping with decline in a mountain village.

Starting from these challenges, the course will take learners on a journey through the main phases and steps of TDR projects. Some of the important questions along the trajectory are:

  1. How are the project and its goals framed?
  2. What actors are important, and which should be involved?
  3. What types of knowledge are important?
  4. How can scientists from different disciplines and societal actors interact to co-produce relevant knowledge?
  5. What are the ethical considerations that arise regarding research partnerships?
  6. In what ways do such projects have societal and scientific impact?
  7. What are potential challenges and pitfalls?
  8. What could knowledge co-production mean for you, your work, your career?

Each week starts with theoretical and methodological aspects, followed by the five cases.

Going through the weeks

In Week 1, we highlight the question of societal challenges. What are promising approaches to address them – and why? We discuss this briefly and introduce each case. In Week 2, you become acquainted with TDR and its core principles. You will explore the case contexts and backgrounds.

From Week 3 to Week 5, you will move through the main phases of TDR. You will delve into the theoretical background and the methods. We will present you with exercises that might be relevant for your own research. Jointly, we experience how the cases evolve from defining problems and goals, through their knowledge co-production process to how they explore ways to impact. What are their specific challenges – and how can one overcome them? We will invite you to reflect and discuss these questions.

In Week 6, you will not only investigate how to evaluate the approach and impact of each case, but the course educators also talk about their career paths in TDR. You are invited to discuss how this specific form of research might shape your own future and how it has changed your approach to societal challenges.

Adapting your workload

As you will see, the fact that we present you with five cases allows you to adjust the time and depth of your engagement in this course. Every case addresses a different societal challenge, engages with different actors, works on different geographical scales, and has a specific process. This means there is a lot to learn from each case, enabling a deeper understanding of the scope and plurality of transdisciplinary approaches. You will surely benefit if you follow all five cases through the whole course. However, if your schedule does not allow this, you may also choose two cases in which you are most interested and follow only those through Weeks 2 to 6.

Your educators and a note on mentoring

An impressive number of experts and institutions are involved in this course. You will meet some of them as educators. It might be a good idea to follow them in order not to miss important comments. Your lead educator is Professor Jakob Zinsstag. His fellow educators are Flurina Schneider, Tobias Buser, Professor Susan Thieme, Christian Pohl, Caroline Näther, Professor Stephan Rist, Didier Wernli, and Professor Fréderic Darbellay. Theres Paulsen will also join them facilitating the course. It will be mentored from 30th March to 10th of May 2020.

Many others have also made essential contributions to develop and produce this course. The PDF attached gives you an overview.

Author: Tobias Buser

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Partnering for Change: Link Research to Societal Challenges

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