Skip to Content

Enabling transdisciplinary research collaboration for planetary health: Insights from practice at the environment-health-development nexus

Wardani, J., Bos, J., Ramirez-Lovering, D., et al, 2022, Sustainable Development 

Read: Enabling transdisciplinary research collaboration for planetary health: Insights from practice at the environment-health-development nexus

Making space for diverse knowledge and perspectives to unleash transformative action on sustainable development.

Transdisciplinary collaboration aims to bridge academic, government, community and private sectors to accelerate collective action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, different value sets, perspectives and interests can present challenges to implementation and coordination. PhD researcher Jane Wardani seeks to understand the essence of collaboration across these diverse stakeholder groups, and design processes that better enable collaborative practice for sustainable development.

‘”Leaving no one behind” in the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, means we have an ethical obligation to be inclusive in defining challenges, developing potential solutions, and ensuring equitable outcomes,’ explains Wardani. ‘Recent decades have seen unprecedented globalisation and deepening North-South inequalities. This work is about deepening our collective understanding of the process of transdisciplinary collaboration in these changing global contexts, and seeing how we might address challenges of integration amidst diverse knowledge systems’.

A literature review conducted by Wardani and colleagues from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and Monash Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, synthesises lessons learned from 36 transdisciplinary research projects over two decades across the fields of environment sustainability, public health, and development.

‘We found structural factors to be the most constraining on collaboration. This includes academia’s deeply entrenched disciplinary traditions, shaping the perception of interdisciplinary research as a risk and potential delay to getting research published; as well as the local contexts where the research is conducted, presenting differences in languages, cultural nuances, and power dynamics.’ says Wardani.

In this sense, funders have a unique opportunity to positively influence collaboration through dynamic project design, building capacity for individual researchers, and serving as incubators for research and development practice that break down silos and transcend diverse knowledge systems.

To truly embrace its potential for transformative action, Wardani says transdisciplinary collaboration must equally value diverse systems of knowledge – including scientific knowledge, local knowledge, Indigenous knowledge, and others. ‘Some of these knowledge systems have been tried and tested over thousands of years – from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), to Ayurveda from the Indian sub-continent. Recent scientific inquiry has mounted good evidence supporting their myriad benefits. The biggest societal challenges of the age may require solutions from unexpected sources beyond our generation's capacity’.

Findings further suggest that successful collaboration relies on relational work, such as interpersonal communication, relationships and trust building. To encourage inclusion, actors should reflect on potential power imbalances to ensure all knowledge and voices are considered.

‘Regardless of our disciplines, experiences and cultural backgrounds, we can each bring something to the table. It is through recognising our common humanity that we can remain open, curious, and appreciate different perspectives’.

A Torajan woman participating in RISE weaves. Interweaving diverse perspectives
could transform the way we co-create effective and equitable solutions to global challenges.