Learning through interdisciplinary dialogue: Methodological approaches for bridging epistemological divides

Eleanor Joanne Brown*, Joshua Daniel Kirshner, Lynda Dunlop, Richard Morris Friend, Sally Heather Brooks, Kelly Robert Redeker, Ana Zimmermann, Paul Howard Walton, Joao Cairo, Fernanda Veneu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scientific innovations for sustainable development often make huge promises about overcoming climate change, or promote technological innovations that have potential development implications. However, the social outcomes of such interventions are often considered superficially; thus potentially reinforcing injustices or producing unforeseen, undesirable outcomes. Increasingly, projects claim to have an interdisciplinary dimension, but processes of interdisciplinary dialogue can be difficult to maintain. This means that researchers have to be prepared to engage in potentially extensive, transformative dialogue and be willing to learn from the disciplinary knowledge of the other. This can be methodologically challenging both for natural and social scientists.
This paper reports meta-research exploring the methodological processes and learning experiences of academics involved in research on the implementation of second generation biofuel technology. Through interdisciplinary meetings, workshops, reflections and interviews we built up sustainable relationships and bridged epistemological divides. Our approach to interdisciplinary dialogue offers insights into the methodological challenges of interdisciplinary work. We used the framework of transformative learning theory to identify key aspects of the interdisciplinary process and reflected on the need for sustained and open opportunities for dialogue in order to find genuine ways to communicate across disciplines. We explicitly revealed and considered our taken-for-granted assumptions to identify what we understood by key terms and processes, including ‘sustainable’, ‘development’, ‘methodology’, ‘truth’, ‘marginal land’ and ‘outputs’. We found these encounters created opportunities to influence the trajectory of each other’s research and thinking, with the ideal of social and environmental justice prominent in all our discussions. It was through ongoing learning and dialogue that we found that the multifaceted challenges of sustainable development research can become more open, more critical and more able to reveal appropriate solutions and promote relevant ongoing scientific research. This interplay between disciplines is an innovative way to influence decision-making directly.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMethodological Innovations
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2023

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