Capabilities for transdisciplinary research

Categories: journal article
Categories: journal article

Title: Capabilities for transdisciplinary research

Authors: Cian O’Donovan, Ola Michalec and Josh Moon

Journal: Research Evaluation

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Problems framed as societal challenges have provided fresh impetus for transdisciplinary research. In response, funders have started programmes aimed at increasing transdisciplinary research capacity. However current programme evaluations do not adequately measure the skills and characteristics of individuals and collectives doing this research. Addressing this gap, we propose a systematic framework for evaluating transdisciplinary research based on the Capability Approach, a set of concepts designed to assess practices, institutions and people based on public values. The framework is operationalised through a mixed-method procedure which evaluates capabilities as they are valued and experienced by researchers themselves. The procedure is tested on a portfolio of ‘pump-priming’ research projects in the United Kingdom. We find these projects are sites of capability development in three ways: through convening cognitive capabilities required for academic practice; cultivating informal tacit capabilities; and maintaining often unacknowledged backstage capabilities over durations that extend beyond the lifetime of individual projects. Directing greater attention to these different modes of capability development in transdisciplinary research programmes may be useful formatively in identifying areas for ongoing project support, and also in steering research system capacity towards societal needs.

Key words: transdisciplinary research; research evaluation; capability approach; societal challenges