Future models of funding and evaluating transdisciplinary research


The Nexus Network–an example of a transdisciplinary collaborative funding platform

Collaboration between researchers and users in producing and combining different types of knowledge is nothing new. But in research environments and cultures that remain largely geared towards mono-disciplinary approaches, it is increasingly recognised that these are ill equipped to address complex, interconnected challenges. Different responses to this include:

  • Multidisciplinary approaches draw upon the strengths or expertise of different disciplines, and more effectively join up their findings, but leave disciplinary boundaries (and sometimes hierarchies) intact.
  • Interdisciplinary approaches involve the fuller integration of disciplines, to develop potentially novel ways of approaching research questions, recognising that there is a diversity of ways to understand and address particular problems.
  • Transdisciplinary approaches not only integrate expertise from across academic disciplines, but also involve users and stakeholders in the design stage, and throughout the research process. In transdisciplinary research, knowledge can come from beyond formal academic disciplines, and insights may be provided through tacit knowledge – as held by local communities, businesses, social movements or practitioners.

All these approaches are important – as is maintaining the health and strength of underpinning disciplines. Following scoping work with RoRI partners, our UNDISCIPLINED project will focus on the funding, evaluation, measurement and impacts of transdisciplinary research.

Transdisciplinary research (TDR) is increasing in part due to growing government demand and public funding being directed towards multifaceted problems. For example, the EU under Horizon Europe has placed more emphasis on mission-driven agendas in public health, education and climate change. At a global level, the UN Sustainable Development Goals have also become a significant factor in the definition and delivery of R&D priorities.

Alongside this growth in TDR, we see new methods to commission, conduct, disseminate and evaluate these forms of knowledge production. Within RoRI, we are well placed to investigate and compare support for, practice, measurement and evaluation of TDR from a funder’s perspective, across different research systems. We will bring together perspectives from our partners and the communities they fund to understand more about the benefits of TDR and how best to support those who produce it.

This work will involve two modules of work over a 15-month period:

  1. How do research funders classify and define TDR? What models and methods are used? What can be learned from comparing these approaches? This module will identify different models and methods of TDR classification and compare these across funding organisations, in order to (i) collate and describe them to create an overarching framework and (ii) evaluate and assess their effectiveness. 
  1. What  guidance is offered to reviewers of TDR proposals, both in TDR and generic funding calls? Can we produce shared guidance across funding organisations? This project will collate written guidance provided to reviewers of TDR on specific funding instruments and general calls from an agreed set of programmes. Salient information from these documents will be synthesised to produce harmonised guidance. The guidance will be piloted to assess its value and acceptability to users.

Project team

Helen Buckley Woods, Research Fellow, RoRI 

James Wilsdon, Director of RoRI and UCL-STEaPP

Ismael Rafols, Senior Research Fellow, RoRI and CWTS-Leiden

Partners and steering group

The UNDISCIPLINED project working group is co-chaired by Adelheid Wessler (Volkswagen Foundation).

Project partners include: 

  • Australian Research Council 
  • FWF-Austrian Science Fund
  • NWO-Dutch Research Council 
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Volkswagen Foundation

Research Team

Timeline and outputs

UNDISCIPLINED will run for 15 months to September 2024. Its outputs will include:

  • A framework of research funders’ classification models for TDR and an accompanying commentary and series of in-depth case studies on these models in practice;
  • A series of evidence-informed guidelines for those peer reviewing TDR grant proposals;
  • A project workshop will be held between the two modules