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LERU Report: “Implementing interdisciplinarity in research-intensive universities: good practices and challenges”

Almost two years since SHAPE-ID published its findings and toolkit, we are delighted to see LERU echo and re-emphasise many of the project’s findings and recommendations in its 2023 report “Implementing interdisciplinarity in research-intensive universities: good practices and challenges”.

LERU (the League of European Research Universities) is a world-leading association of twenty-three research universities. Its 2023 report launched on 3 April 2023 and an important update to LERU’s seminal 2016 report “Interdisciplinarity and the 21st Century Research Intensive University” whose findings have been referenced worldwide.

League of European Research Universities - Wikipedia

Speaking on publication of the report, co-author of the LERU report Professor Jane Ohlmeyer from the School of Histories and Humanities, who is also coordinator of the SHAPE-ID project, and former director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, said:

We’ve never needed interdisciplinarity more than we do now, in terms of global challenges and how we tackle the big societal issues that the world faces. Whether it’s climate, housing, or the environment, there’s a recognition now that interdisciplinarity is vital, and that the arts, humanities and social sciences are an integral part of finding solutions to these ‘wicked problems’.

LERU’s 2023 report reaffirms interdisciplinarity as “an integral part of the wider transformation of our knowledge systems that is necessary to support a broader societal transformation to inclusive and equitable sustainability.” Adding to this, it comments on the “equally important” recent movement towards transdisciplinarity in research, education and policy, involving “the collaboration of scholars from different academic disciplines with many actors across societies.”

The 2023 report recognises the interconnected challenges increasingly facing the university and society at large, such as climate, global health and sustainability, which require a multi-factorial approach and engagement from researchers and policymakers from across the disciplines and sectors.  As the report observes,

Today, the key issue is not lack of knowledge about the importance nor processes and practices of inter- and transdisciplinarity, but rather with the diffusion and implementation of that knowledge within the knowledge systems.

The report stresses that the current challenge is implementation and reification of existing inter- and transdisciplinary practice, with an emphasis on increasing research and career opportunities for scholars while embedding these practices in wider academic structures.

Institutional support is needed to navigate what the report describes as the two “bottlenecks” that are causing issues for inter- and transdisciplinarity: the lack of interdisciplinarity at doctoral level and lack of career opportunities. In the absence of clear pathways, scholars find they often have fewer choices to remain in interdisciplinary research, while interdisciplinary researchers frequently find they are required to take on additional workloads if they are working across departments.

The SHAPE-ID toolkit has some valuable supports for such challenges, from the case study on Research Infrastructures for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the “Top Ten Tips” series, based upon the experience of SHAPE-ID partners, which addresses issues such as mentoring academic careers in inter- and transdisciplinary research, to our guided video tours for research leaders. The toolkit was described in the European Commission’s 2022 independent review as a “world-class” resource that positions Europe as a leader in the field, warranting “careful consideration” by policymakers.

The LERU report also discusses how trans- and interdisciplinary projects can inadvertently end up rewarding researchers in one field more than another, despite the collaborative nature of the endeavour. It is important that interdisciplinary scholars are properly rewarded and acknowledged for their research. Again, the SHAPE-ID toolkit offers supports for these scenarios, such as reflective questions aimed at higher education institutions, in order to evaluate existing institutional supports for inter- or transdisciplinary researchers and projects.

Other forms of institutional support needed include designated interdisciplinary roles to oversee research and collaboration. Another is a movement towards interdisciplinary evaluation, with LERU recognising that “there are still critical gaps concerning the implementation of good practice regarding the evaluation and valorisation of interdisciplinary research.” SHAPE-ID also provides guides on these subjects, including a focus on new methods of evaluating inter- and transdisciplinary research and downloadable additional resources.

The 2023 LERU report identifies and celebrates the research and structural achievements implemented across LERU institutions since 2016, demonstrating the significant successes in the fields of inter- and transdisciplinarity, while also including their recommendations for further progress in these fields.

A valuable and necessary evaluation of the current inter and transdisciplinary research activity across Europe, LERU’s 2023 report is an important recognition of the huge strides being made in academia in these boundary-pushing endeavours, while being a stark reminder of the important work still needed to address the challenges of our modern interconnected world. It also acknowledges the key insights that the SHAPE-ID consortium has made to the field since the 2016 report. It is now incumbent on LERU’s associate universities and others who wish to stay on the cutting edge of inter- and transdisciplinary research activity to adapt its significant recommendations.

To read the full interview by Professor Didier Wernli and Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, please see here.

SHAPE-ID will host a webinar with LERU Tuesday 23 May at 11am (12 noon CET) to discuss its report. Further details to come.

– Article written by Dr Sarah Cullen

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