Interdisciplinary research for development impact: How can funders walk the talk?
|Year of Publication||2018|
|Type of Publication||Policy and Practice Brief|
Academic research is increasingly called upon to provide actionable evidence for sustainable development. As the demands for ‘impact’ grow, the limits of single-discipline investigation become apparent. Most funders see interdisciplinary research as an avenue to tackle complex global challenges. Yet this emphasis clashes with an academic culture that remains, to a large extent, within the boundaries of individual disciplines. ESPA has produced a new briefing on lessons learned from partnership working. It is based on a comprehensive review of Ecosystem Services for Poverty Reduction (ESPA) documentation, including project proposals and reports, an online survey and key informant interviews.
• Interdisciplinary research takes extra time at every stage: from defining research questions, to agreeing data-collection techniques and sample sizes, to publishing. Project timelines needs to allow for team interaction, mutual learning and flexibility.
• Interdisciplinarity is about keeping sight of the ‘bigger picture’. Team composition should reflect a mix of disciplinary expertise, and also include generalist researchers who are able to work across disciplines.
• Interpersonal relations are crucial to the success of interdisciplinary processes. Facilitation skills are critical, but are generally not prioritised in team composition and leadership.
• Interdisciplinary research requires flexible management. Interdisciplinary enquiries can open new avenues of investigation, and even completely reframe research questions. This unpredictability should be treated as an opportunity not a problem.