Transdisciplinary environmental research

Transdisciplinary research brings together scientists from multiple disciplines to provide solutions to complex, socially relevant problems. Transdisciplinary research also involves the collaboration between researchers and research users, enabling mutual learning between all participants. These two elements – interdisciplinary and participatory research – can improve the likelihood of research adoption by users. However, to date some questions remain unanswered: What are the impacts of transdisciplinary research? Does it really create more useful knowledge? And does the extra investment translate into real-world benefits?

Four Hub projects in WA’s Fitzroy catchment are working together to create knowledge around water resource management. This new project is facilitating these four projects to work together in a transdisciplinary approach (see diagram below) that includes collaborating closely with research users such as governments, Traditional Owners, industry and environmental groups.

This project is:

  • evaluating the use of a transdisciplinary – interdisciplinary, participatory and applied – research approach in WA’s Fitzroy River catchment
  • contributing to water management in the Fitzroy catchment by facilitating co-production and integration of knowledge generated by four research projects
  • contributing to addressing complex sustainability issues in northern Australia and beyond by informing the design of future research approaches.

This project aims to:

  • contribute to the design and implementation of strategies that enhance the transdisciplinarity of the four Fitzroy catchment projects, increasing the potential uptake of research outputs in decision-making
  • draw lessons that can inform the design, implementation and evaluation of future transdisciplinary environmental research.

The team is using program evaluation – a widely used evaluation approach – to assess how the projects are coordinating their work and whether they are moving towards their intended goals and working effectively with research users. This is also providing answers to the three questions posed earlier.

Project activities

  • Develop a theory of change that explains how the four projects’ activities are achieving their common goals
  • Design an evaluative approach that can be used by funders and researchers to assess the strengths and weaknesses of transdisciplinary research and identify a list of indicators to be used in the evaluation
  • Interview research users, funders and researchers to check whether the projects are reaching towards their common goals
  • Use interviews, participant observation and the analysis of relevant documents to identify the research impacts jointly achieved by the transdisciplinary research group working in the Fitzroy catchment.

Anticipated outputs

  • Publications identifying the challenges and opportunities for research teams doing transdisciplinary research, and advantages and disadvantages associated with this approach
  • A report with recommendations to research funders aiming to support transdisciplinary research projects
  • A list of questions that researchers could address before they decide which (and what level of) transdisciplinary research to use

This project is being led by Professors Michael Douglas and David Pannell from The University of Western Australia, supported by Dr Milena Kiatkoski Kim.

This project is due for completion in June 2021.

Michael Douglas, The University of Western Australia
E: [email protected]

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia
E: [email protected]

Milena Kim, The University of Western Australia
E: [email protected]

UWA Logo

  • Environmental field work on the Fitzroy River, photo Leah Beesley.
  • The Fitzroy River's Geikie Gorge, photo Michael Douglas.
  • Fitzroy River, photo Michael Douglas.
  • Camballin Barrage on the Fitzroy River, photo MIchael Douglas.