Product: Management and Development
Product: Management and Development
Research Article

Characterising the transdisciplinary research approach

Hannah Gooding, Susan Lattanzio, Glenn Parry, Linda Newnes, Esat Alpay

Downloads: 0
Views: 489


Despite increasing attention and calls for transdisciplinary (TD) working in engineering, a lack of clarity surrounding what constitutes a TD research approach persists. This paper aims to reduce ambiguity by characterising TD and identifying when the TD approach should or should not be used. Specifically, the research answers the question: when might it be beneficial to take a TD rather than a single, multi or interdisciplinary research approach? Survey responses from twenty-eight authors (50%) who presented papers at the 28th ISTE International Conference on Transdisciplinary Engineering (TE2021) were qualitatively analysed. Findings show a TD approach to research is beneficial for complex problem-solving. New understanding reveals that TD could be used to evidence scientific and social impact, and that context determines the appropriateness of TD adoption. However, even where TD adoption is deemed appropriate, institutional barriers to adoption may exist. In other words, the work environment (culture) in which we do our research, may determine if any meaningful benefits from TD are, or are not realised. Lessons from engineering education are used to discuss how to institutionalise TD, future transdisciplinary engineers and researchers might be taught and socialised in the competencies needed for transdisciplinary research.


transdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary, transdisciplinary engineering


Anselmo, A. (2018). Édgar Morin: from vicious circles to virtuous circles. World Futures, 74(2), 68-83.

Augsburg, T. (2014). Becoming transdisciplinary: the emergence of the transdisciplinary individual. World Futures, 70(3-4), 233-247.

Babatope, A. A., Samuel, T. M., Ajewole, P. I., & Anyanwu, O. M. (2020). Competence-driven engineering education: a case for T-shaped engineers and teachers. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 9(1), 32-38.

Balsiger, P. W. (2004). Supradisciplinary research practices: history, objectives and rationale. Futures, 36(4), 407-421.

Bernstein, J. H. (2015). Transdisciplinarity: a review of its origins, development and current issues. Journal of Research Practice, 11, 1-20.

Bimpitsos, C., & Petridou, E. (2012). A transdisciplinary approach to training: preliminary research findings based on a case analysis. European Journal of Training and Development, 36(9), 911-929.

Borg, S. J. (2021). Four investment areas for ethical AI: transdisciplinary opportunities to close the publication-to-practice gap. Big Data & Society, 8(2).

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Broo, D. G., Kaynak, O., & Sait, S. M. (2022). Rethinking engineering education at the age of industry 5.0. Journal of Industrial Information Integration, 25, 100311.

Bunders, J. F., Broerse, J. E., Keil, F., Pohl, C., Scholz, R. W., & Zweekhorst, M. (2010). How can transdisciplinary research contribute to knowledge democracy? In R. in 't Veld (Ed.), Knowledge democracy (pp. 125-152). Berlin: Springer.

Burritt, R., & Schaltegger, S. (2014). Accounting towards sustainability in production and supply chains. The British Accounting Review, 46(4), 327-343.

Carew, A. L., & Wickson, F. (2010). The TD wheel: a heuristic to shape, support and evaluate transdisciplinary research. Futures, 42(10), 1146-1155.

de Jong, S. P. L., Wardenaar, T., & Horlings, E. (2016). Exploring the promises of transdisciplinary research: a quantitative study of two climate research programmes. Research Policy, 45(7), 1397-1409.

del Cerro Santamarıa, G. (2015). The value of transdisciplinary collaboration in robotics education and research. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 6, 117-132.

Ertas, A. (2010). Understanding of transdiscipline and transdisciplinary process. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 1(1), 48-64.

Ertas, A. (2018), Transdisciplinary engineering design process. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Ertas, A., Maxwell, T., Rainey, V. P., & Tanik, M. M. (2003). Transformation of higher education: the transdisciplinary approach in engineering. IEEE Transactions on Education, 46(2), 289-295.

Ertas, A., Tanik, M. M., & Maxwell, T. T. (2000). Transdisciplinary engineering education and research model. Journal of Integrated Design & Process Science, 4(4), 1-11.

European Commission. (2021). Industry 5.0: towards a sustainable, human centric and resilient European Industry. Retrieved in 2022, August 2, from

Faulconbridge, J. R. (2010). TNCs as embedded social communities: transdisciplinary perspectives. Critical Perspectives on International Business, 6(4), 273-290.

Garcia, J., Sinfield, J., Yadav, A., & Adams, R. (2012). Learning through entrepreneurially oriented case-based instruction. International Journal of Engineering Education, 28(2), 448.

Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Trow, M., Scott, P., & Schwartzman, S. (1994). The new production of knowledge. London: SAGE.

Gollakota, A. R., & Shu, C. M. (2022). COVID-19 and Energy sector: unique opportunity for switching to clean energy. Gondwana Research. In press.

Hirsch Hadorn, Gertrude, H. Hoffmann-Riem, S. Biber-Klemm, W. Grossenbacher-Mansuy, D. Joye, C. Pohl, U. Wiesmann, and E. Zemp. (2008). Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research. Bern: Springer.

Hernandez-Aguilar, C., Dominguez-Pacheco, A., Martínez-Ortiz, E. J., Ivanov, R., López Bonilla, J. L., Cruz-Orea, A., & Ordonez-Miranda, J.. (2020). Evolution and characteristics of the transdisciplinary perspective in research: a literature review. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 11.

Hollaender, K., Loibl, M. C., & Wilts, A. (2008). Management. In G. Hirsh Hadorn (Ed.), Handbook of transdisciplinary research (pp. 385-397). New York: Springer.

Hyun, E. (2012). Engineering transdisciplinarity in university Academic Affairs: challenges, dilemmas, and progress. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 3, 58-68.

Jantsch, E. (1972). Inter-and transdisciplinary university: a systems approach to education and innovation. Higher Education, 1(1), 7-37.

Kastenhofer, K., Omann, I., Stagl, S. and Steininger, K., (2003). Science policy for transdisciplinary research. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems.

Klein, J. T. (2003), Unity of knowledge and transdisciplinarity: contexts of definition, theory and the new discourse of problem solving. In UNESCO (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS) (pp. 35-69). Paris: UNESCO and EOLSS Publishers.

Kollman, T., & Ertas, A. (2010). Results of a survey to identify differences between interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research processes. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 1(1), 117-126.

Lattanzio, S., Carey, E., Hultin, A., Asrai, R. I., McManus, M., Mogles, N., Parry, G., & Newnes, L. B. (2020). Transdisciplinarity within the academic engineering literature. International Journal of Agile Systems and Management, 13(2), 213-232.

Lattanzio, S., Nassehi, A., Parry, G., & Newnes, L. B. (2021). Concepts of transdisciplinary engineering: a transdisciplinary landscape. International Journal of Agile Systems and Management, 14(2), 292-312.

Lattuca, L., & Knight, D. (2010). In the eye of the beholder: defining and studying interdisciplinarity in engineering education. In 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition (pp. 15-710), Kentucky, United States.

Lawrence, M. G., Williams, S., Nanz, P., & Renn, O. (2022). Characteristics, potentials, and challenges of transdisciplinary research. One Earth, 5(1), 44-61.

Lawrence, T., & Suddaby, R. (2006). Institutions and institutional work. In S. Clegg, C. Hardy, T. B. Lawrence & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of organization studies (2nd ed., pp. 215-254). London: Sage.

Leach, J. M., & Rogers, C. D. (2010). Briefing: embedding transdisciplinarity in engineering approaches to infrastructure and cities. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Smart Infrastructure and Construction, 173(2), 1-5.

McGregor, S. L. (2004). The nature of transdisciplinary research and practice. Kappa Omicron Nu's Undergraduate Research Journal for the

Human Sciences. Working Paper Series.

McGregor, S. L. (2015). The Nicolescuian and Zurich approaches to transdisciplinarity. Integral Leadership Review, 15(2), 6-16.

Menoni, S. (2006). Introducing a transdisciplinary approach in studies regarding risk assessment and management in educational programs for environmental engineers and planners. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 7(3), 309-321.

Mittelstrass, J. (2011). On transdisciplinarity. Trames, 15(4), 329-338.

Newnes, L., Lattanzio, S., Carey, E., Hicks, B., Nassehi, A., & Parry, G. (2020). TRansdisciplinary ENgineering Design (TREND): towards a Transdisciplinary Engineering Index. In K. Hiekata, B. Moser, M. Inoue, J. Stjepandić & N. Wognum (Eds.), Transdisciplinary engineering for complex socio-technical systems-real-life applications (pp. 42-49). Amsterdam: IOS Press.

Nicolescu, B. (2002). Manifesto of transdisciplinarity. New York: SUNY Press.

Noor, A. (2012). Emerging interdisciplinary fields in the coming intelligence/convergence era. Open Engineering, 2(3), 315-324.

Oyinlola, M., Whitehead, T., Abuzeinab, A., Adefila, A., Akinola, Y., Anafi, F., Farukh, F., Jegede, O., Kandan, K., Kim, B., & Mosugu, E. (2018). Bottle house: a case study of transdisciplinary research for tackling global challenges. Habitat International, 79, 18-29.

Parkes, C., & Blewitt, J. (2011). “Ignorance was bliss, now I’m not ignorant and that is far more difficult”: transdisciplinary learning and reflexivity in responsible management education. Journal of Global Responsibility, 2(2), 206-221.

Pasquier, F., & Nicolescu, B. (2019). To be or not to be transdisciplinary, that is the new question: so, how to be transdisciplinary? Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science, 10.

Peruzzini, M., Wognum, N., Bil, C., & Stjepandic, J. (2020). Special issue on ‘transdisciplinary approaches to digital manufacturing for industry 4.0.’. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 33(4), 321-324.

Piaget, J. (1972). The epistemology of interdisciplinary relationships. In L. Apostel, G. Berger, A. Briggs & G. Michaud (Eds.), Interdisciplinarity: problems of teaching and research in universities (pp. 127-139). Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Plumblee 2nd, J. M., Cattano, C., Bell, L., & Klotz, L. (2012). Fulfilling engineering program objectives through service learning campaigns in developing countries. Leadership and Management in Engineering, 12(2), 46-52.

Pohl, C. (2011). What is progress in transdisciplinary research? Futures, 43(6), 618-626.

Ramadier, T. (2004). Transdisciplinarity and its challenges: the case of urban studies. Futures, 36(4), 423-439.

Rasmussen, B., Andersen, P. D., & Borch, K. (2010). Managing transdisciplinartiy in strategic foresight.Creativity and Innovation Management, 19(1), 37-46.

Renn, O. (2021). Transdisciplinarity: synthesis towards a modular approach. Futures, 130, 102744.

Repko, A. F. (2009). Interdisciplinary research: process and theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Royal Academy of Engineering. (2022). APEX awards. Retrieved in 2022, August 29, from

Sakao, T. (2019). Research series reviews for transdisciplinarity assessment: validation with sustainable consumption and production research. Sustainability, 11(19), 5250.

Schikowitz, A. (2021). Being a ‘good researcher’ in transdisciplinary research: choreographies of identity work beyond community. Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences, 31, 225-245.

Scholz, R. W. (2020). Transdisciplinarity: science for and with society in light of the university’s roles and functions. Sustainability Science, 15(4), 1033-1049.

SCnat Knowledge. (2022), The Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) and its network report the state of knowledge, based on sound scientific findings and in regards to Switzerland – for the attention of politics, administration, business, science and practice. Retrieved in 2022, August 19, from

Taajamaa, V., Kirjavainen, S., Repokari, L., Sjöman, H., Utriainen, T., & Salakoski, T. (2013). Dancing with Ambiguity Design thinking in interdisciplinary engineering education. In 2013 IEEE Tsinghua International Design Management Symposium,Beijing (pp. 353-360). New York: IEEE.

Tejedor, G., Segalàs, J., & Rosas-Casals, M. (2018). Transdisciplinarity in higher education for sustainability: how discourses are approached in engineering education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 175, 29-37.

Tranquillo, J. (2017). The t-shaped engineer. Journal of Engineering Education Transformations, 30(4), 12-24. Government Office for Science. (2017). The futures toolkit, tools for futures thinking and foresight across UK government, Retrieved in 2022, August 16, from Research Excellence Framework. (2018). Research excellence framework. Retrieved in 2022, September 1, from HM Government. (2020a). UK research and development roadmap. Retrieved in 2022, July 10, from

UK Research and Innovation Council – UKRI. (2020). Designing the future resilient transdisciplinary design engineers. Retrieved in 2022, July 10, from

United Nations. (2022), Peace, dignity, and equality on a healthy planet. Retrieved in 2022, February 2, from

Wickson, F., Carew, A. L., & Russell, A. W. (2006). Transdisciplinary research: characteristics, quandaries and quality. Futures, 38(9), 1046-1059.

Wognum, N., Bil, C., Elgh, F., Peruzzini, M., Stjepandić, J., & Verhagen, W. (2018) Transdisciplinary engineering research challenges. In 25th ISPE International Conference on Transdisciplinary Engineering Integrating (TE2018), Modena, Italy (pp. 753-762). IOS Press.

Wognum, N., Bil, C., Elgh, F., Peruzzini, M., Stjepandić, J., & Verhagen, W. J. (2019). Transdisciplinary systems engineering: implications, challenges and research agenda. International Journal of Agile Systems and Management, 12(1), 58-89.

Submitted date:

Accepted date:

63b31338a953951859080344 pmd Articles
Links & Downloads


Share this page
Page Sections