Transformative Transdisciplinarity (TTDR)

Transdisciplinarity (TD) is a research methodology for doing science with society when facing societal challenges that are too complex for tackling from within academia only; warranting societal stakeholder engagement. However, TD is not intrinsically transformative. In order to be/come transformative, TDR processes must have some real knowledge & human interests — at both the practical and theoretical levels — in contributing to social change and, therefore, to be guided by some context-sensitive theory/praxis of change (ToC) in the direction of social change.

Working on complex societal challenges in TTDR processes is particularly challenging, since it involves co-producing systems, target and transformation knowledge — not only for the better understanding (Verstehen) and explaining (Erklärung) the complexity of the challenges at hand, but also for changing them (Verändern):

  • Systems knowledge = factual knowledge of what ‘is’ (current reality or actuality);
  • Target knowledge = normative knowledge of what ‘ought’ to be as more desirable / sustainable situations — what does not exist, yet is possible — in short, potentiality;
  • Transformation knowledge = process or strategic knowledge of how to transition from an undesirable / unsustainable current reality towards a more desirable / sustainable situation — in short, moving from actuality to potentiality.

Note: potentiality does not necessarily imply a deferred reality which can only be realized at some or other point in the (distant) future. On the contrary, potentiality may very well involve discovering the evolutionary potential in / of the present via the co-construction of adjacent possibles embedded in and under the conditions of the current situation. To this end, it is important not to fall into the trap of becoming overly future- / goal-oriented (teleological) by constructing highly idealistic / normative future scenarios that are so disconnected from the complexities of the current situation, making it impossible to implement them in the present .

Epistemologically speaking: systems, target and transformation knowledge are three quite different — yet related — kinds of knowledge, each with their own internal logic and guiding problem statements & research questions (dynamic epistemic objects) (DEOs). Their flexibility is crucial, because TTDR process are shaping and being shaped by the formative contexts in which they are normally embedded — and DEOs must, therefore, also be capable of changing and being changed by said formative contexts. This can be illustrated by the dynamic triadic graphic below, with the human hand nudging and following the moving blue ball in different directions, signifying agile knowledge co-construction in the face of changing knowledge & human interests.