It’s confusing to wrap your head around multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary work. They are all popular words lately in research, governance, businesses and civic society, so let’s break the concepts down into bite-sized pieces. For this, a metaphor and a snack will help: grab a cookie!
Multidisciplinary work is like having flour, sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate all sitting in a bowl (please adapt your theoretical recipe based on dietary needs and/or beliefs!). They are the essential ingredients for a cookie, and they all do great stuff on their own, but they sit there separately without mixing.
Interdisciplinary work is like mixing this flour, sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate together. What you have now is a lot of interaction across these different ingredients, as you physically blend them and the sugars and proteins begin to break down and re-bond. You now have batter, not just ingredients. It creates an awesome dialogue and generates new knoweldge, though it’s still not fully a cookie!
Transdisciplinary work is like taking this mixture and adding the essential component of heat, transforming the batter altogether into a new object: a delicious cookie!
The important transformative potential of transdisciplinary work today comes from integrating an essential ingredient: involving non-academic actors in the research process. It aims to create and integrate knowledge from scientific and practical lenses, and pays attention to how interwoven we are across governance, nature, people, and economies.