Transdisciplinarity, Sustainability and Development Research

Kumi Abeysuriya,
Prof. Paul Bryce,
Assoc Prof Cynthia Mitchell,
Mr Christopher Nelson,
Tanzi Smith,
Dr Juliet Willetts
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This paper provides insight into how the concept of transdisciplinarity can inform development research and enhance the potential for this research to contribute to sustainability. We recognise that development research inevitably crosses disciplinary boundaries and requires a consistent framework to negotiate this territory. Similarly, sustainability draws on numerous disciplines, but integration of these diverse disciplinary perspectives has proved difficult. We argue that transdisciplinarity, which is problem-focused, praxis based and captilises on how different disciplines may be used to inform one another, is a viable new approach.

Transdisciplinarity may be used both to justify the validity and quality of development research in an academic sense, and provide research outcomes that are practical and meaningful in sustainable development practice. We provide a demonstration of transdisciplinary research approaches through three case studies. The first is an investigation of cost recovery for urban sanitation services in Sri Lanka, regarded as a significant barrier to attracting the necessary investment. The study draws on concepts and tools from systems theory, thermodynamics and Buddhist economics, to develop a fresh perspective on sanitation that provides a wider range of benefits and revenue streams than conventional approaches, increasing the potential for full cost recovery. The second uses phenomenography to reveal another side to a large scale agricultural development project in Mozambique. The third case study involves the development of a theoretical ecological framework for sustainable communities. This framework is utilised in the examination of a number of communities in Vietnam that have made change toward sustainability. These case studies illustrate how transdisciplinarity allows the adaptation of existing methodologies to new contexts and the development of research frameworks that provide fresh insights into development research and the challenges and solutions of sustainability.

Keywords: Transdisciplinarity, Development Research, Praxis, Systems Theory
Stream: Economic Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Kumi Abeysuriya

Institute for Sustainable Futures

Prof. Paul Bryce

Institute for Sustainable Futures

Assoc Prof Cynthia Mitchell

Institute for Sustainable Futures

Mr Christopher Nelson

Researcher & PhD student, Institute for Sustainable Futures'
University of Technology, Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures


Chris Nelson joined ISF in 2004 as a PhD student. He completed a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.) at the University of Melbourne in 1992 and wrote his Masters thesis in 1994 on the rapid economic development program in South East Asia. His PhD research topic attempts to investigate Agricultural Reform and Development in the Northern Provinces of Mozambique. The aim of the project is to correlate the provision of external donor funding with changes in the region and to assess whether proposed development is sustainable, effective and appropriate to the interests of local farmers. The project is using a multi-disciplinary approach to data collection that utilises participatory research techniques and mechanisms to assess effective governance, environmental management, efficient resource allocation and accurate output valuations. Chris has been involved in international development for some years both as a consultant and teacher. He has expertise in poverty research management, risk assessment, project evaluation and appropriate development strategies.

Tanzi Smith

Institute for Sustainable Futures

Dr Juliet Willetts

Institute for Sustainable Futures

Ref: S06P0290