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Knowledge integration: a key challenge for transdisciplinary cooperation

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Godemann, J., 2008. Knowledge integration: a key challenge for transdisciplinary cooperation. Environmental Education Research 14, 625–641.
Thematic Area
Development studies
In both transdisciplinary education and transdisciplinary research projects, bodies of knowledge must be brought together which are structured in fundamentally different ways. Besides the clear divide between practical, everyday knowledge and academic knowledge, there is also a range of distinct discipline‐based outlooks; all of these are to be integrated in order to reach solutions to practical problems, and to create new knowledge that transcends disciplinary boundaries. The different forms of knowledge present within a transdisciplinary team represent an important resource for problem‐solving. However, this raises the question of how – in spite of or because of these differences – knowledge can be exchanged and ultimately integrated in such a manner as to achieve common goals. The process of knowledge integration is key to the added value of transdisciplinary research; it is therefore well worth examining the process in a more differentiated manner. The paper draws upon findings from social psychology on information and knowledge transfer and group dynamics to illuminate the process of generating transdisciplinary knowledge. It intends to contribute to the further development of transdisciplinary collaboration practice. The paper also provides specific recommendations which are useful in research and education processes.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The article demonstrates how transdisciplinary research teams form a complex system. The focus lies on the group dynamics and the group mechanics of interrelations between the actors. The author suggests“Knowledge Integration” as the lever for increasing efficiency in implementation of group tasks and meeting group objectives.

The two essential parts of knowledge integration in a transdisciplinary group are “shared and unshared information”. Shared information is what everyone in the group knows about, unshared is information that is coupled to disciplinary knowledge and other specialized forms of knowledge. Knowledge integration is attained when unshared information is utilized for the group objectives. Every group would have both barriers and opportunities for such knowledge integration. The article lists two domains where barriers and opportunities may occur. The first concerns social-cognitive explanations of the knowledge integration process:

Exchange of information – how information is shared or information on what kind of expertise is available within the group is shared
Understanding – the possibilities for, or willingness of, group members to understand unshared information
Common knowledge base - which is attained through a process of negotiation
Shared frame of reference – a group culture that determines how information from other members is evaluated, what is considered right or wrong, how the group understand itself and how it makes decisions.
Mental models of the group – which is constituted by the shared knowledge required for the execution of collective action


The second domain concerns group processes. These can be divided in personal factors and factors related to the rationales in the group. Personal factors that matters are:

The degree of cooperation experience
The status of the group members
Power structures can be identified within a group
The influence of gender, culture, religion, etc. – in sum ‘otherness’
The level of acquaintance between the individual group members

The rationales of the group are described as cohesion which refers to:

Attractiveness of the group
Friendly relationships between the individual members
Attractiveness of the group tasks

Cohesion has a flipside to be aware of- group thinking, when the norms that constitute the rules f the game for the group are not conducive to learning ad knowledge integration.


For the group to become effective all members must be willing and able to reflect on both their own knowledge and on the knowledge of others. Contradictions, differences and overlaps must be exposed, clarified and accepted. The interactions between the systems elements, i.e. the group members are determined by how the factors mentioned above are dealt with.
Point of Strength
The article provides a good framework for a systemic approach to the complex task of putting together a transdisciplinary team and to make it effective in achieving its objectives. The focus on group dynamics is elaborated in a useful way, which would make it possible to use as a checklist for studies on or for management of transdisciplinary group constellations. Furthermore, it provides a framework that could be useful in teaching complex systems thinking in the social domain.