Special synthesis on transdisciplinarity: Potential and limitations of transdisciplinary knowledge production in the NRP 61 research projects


The accompanying research project from the University of Berne investigated the transdisciplinary approaches in the 16 research projects.

Project description (completed research project)

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 16 individual NRP 61 research projects with regard to the approach to transdisciplinarity? Looking at interactions between researchers and the target groups should shed some light on these. Using a basic and an in-depth module, the 16 different projects are reviewed. How have they implemented the principles of transdisciplinarity?

The aims of the basic module are as follows:

  1. Formulating an overview of the basic features of transdisciplinary processes and methods in the individual projects (concepts, methods, research designs and process design, and the related potential, conflicts, tensions and contradictions).
  2. Developing a typology of the practice of transdisciplinary process design in the NRP 61 projects.
  3. Evaluating the most important basic features of process design against the background of the theory of social negotiating and learning processes in the context of sustainable development.

The in-depth module investigates four to five selected projects with the following aim:

Identification of factors and conditions that promote/impede the successful process design of learning and negotiating processes in the transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge for a more sustainable use of water resources.


The investigation into transdisciplinary process design in the NRP 61 research projects is based on qualitative methods and the targeted review of relevant academic literature.


A large variety of methods was used in the 16 research projects: workshops to elaborate shared visions and recommendations, excursions to the regions under study, personal contacts enabling discussion and negotiation as well as written information and feedback. The stakeholders were assigned different roles: they worked as members of the project team, as key players in workshops, as experts or as recipients of information.

The intensity of transdisciplinary processes changed in the course of the projects. It ranged from simple information exchange to consultation and intensive collaboration.

In conclusion, the evaluation project sought to answer the question whether there are constellations that call for specific designs or methods. If you want to collate systemic knowledge and highlight dependencies in an area involving few stakeholders, individual contacts and expert publications are sufficient. However, if you aim to trigger debates about recommendations and controversial social issues involving many different stakeholders, you will need to facilitate intensive exchanges.

Relevance for research and practice

Recommendations for transdisciplinary projects in research programmes - such as future NRPs - will now be elaborated on the basis of these analyses.

Project leader​s

  • Prof. Stephan Rist, Universität Bern
  • Dr. Flurina Schneider, Universität Bern
  • Tobias Buser, Universität Bern

Further information on this content


Prof. Stephan Rist Centre for Development and Environment Geographisches Institut Universität Bern Hallerstrasse 10 3012 Bern +41 31 631 55 82

Products of the project