Sound interdisciplinarity for better transdisciplinarity

The FOOdIVERSE project is carried out by researchers analysing the food system from the perspective of various scientific disciplines. An important part of the project are the Living Labs, which involve people and organizations from outside the Academy. During the implementation of the project, it turned out that in addition to the accumulated knowledge about the food system, we also gathered valuable experience in the implementation of inter- and transdisciplinary projects. Three researchers representing different countries and different scientific disciplines decided to analyse these experiences. We have prepared autoethnographic narratives, thanks to which it is possible to formulate conclusions about the links between inter- and transdisciplinarity in food system projects. Our findings were presented in a graphic way by Margherita Brunori.

Our analysis focused on one of FOOdIVERSE tasks that was aiming at assessing food system policies and legal framework in our countries. The guidelines for this analysis were prepared by food and agricultural law specialist, but our research included interviews and qualitative research typical for social sciences. Therefore, this task was a real challenge for our team as it was a legal framework analysis conducted by researchers with diverse professional backgrounds with means of sociological research.

When analysing the process of conducting our interdisciplinary research we realised that we had been focused on its technical aspects. We did not spend much time on explaining our backgrounds, previous experiences and unique perspectives. Our work could have been easier if we did so.  

To illustrate our experiences with interdisciplinary research we use the metaphor of Rosetta stone. It is a stele with inscriptions with three ancient languages that enabled scientists to decode the Egyptian hieroglyphs. For us the Rosetta stone is a metaphor for building a common epistemology by bridging emotions, academic knowledge and professional drivers. It’s a process of translation so that each observer can understand the other’s perspective and build sound knowledge or, in other words, conduct sound interdisciplinary. The process of building and decoding the Rosetta stone led the team to a better understanding of food systems, increased self-confidence on the matter, and gave a sense of being more prepared for dealing with Living Labs stakeholders.

In the case of projects such as FOOdIVERSE, the sound interdisciplinary process runs in parallel to the transdisciplinary one as it feeds the team with more knowledge. Thanks to it, academics can give more to non-academic stakeholders. Developing the common epistemology that includes emotional and personal dimensions is crucial here. Overlooking this fact can undermine the outcome of both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary endeavours.

The project was co-financed by the NCBR, BMEL, MIPAAF, RCN and DEFRA within the framework of ERA-NET SUSFOOD and ERA-NET CORE Organic Cofund Joint Call program