Department Environmental Social Sciences

Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research (ITD)

Urban water sectors around the globe face fundamental challenges due to aging and cost-intensive infrastructure, water scarcity, climate change and micro-pollutants among others. To address these challenges, knowledge from a diverse range of scientific disciplines (social sciences, engineering, urban planning, etc.) and experiences of different actors from policy and practice (industry, utilities, development organizations, etc.) are needed. By integrating these different perspectives from science, policy and practice, more sustainable and innovative approaches to urban water management are developed and implemented in order to increase the resilience and adaptability of the urban water sector. For doing so, inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches are needed.


Dr. Sabine Hoffmann Group Leader, Cluster: ITD Tel. +41 58 765 6818 Send Mail

What is inter- and transdisciplinary research?

Interdisciplinary research means the collaboration between researchers from two or more disciplines, who jointly address research questions that cannot be answered by one discipline alone due to its complexity. Interdisciplinary teams are able to deal with such questions in a more holistic and effective way by bringing together different disciplinary perspectives and creating a coherent and comprehensive whole of the different perspectives brought together. Transdisciplinary research takes this collaboration a step further. It means collaboration and co-production of knowledge between an interdisciplinary research team with actors from policy and practice. Thereby, more societally relevant and socially robust solutions are developed.

Research focus

Integration means the cognitive, affective and social process of creating a more comprehensive understanding of an issue by bringing different perspectives together. It is widely regarded as both the key feature and the core challenge of inter- and transdisciplinary research, while also being considered critical to the success (or failure) of such research projects or programs. In sight of the inherent complexity to be managed in transdisciplinary research, it needs adaptive and integrative leadership models for TD research to be successful. Thus, our research deals with the following topics:

  • Which challenges does transdisciplinary integration pose for project or program leaders as well as for researchers and practitioners involved in transdisciplinary research endeavours?
  • What does integration mean in transdisciplinary research projects or programs and when is it achieved?
  • Which strategies, practices and tools are fruitful for advancing integration?
  • How can learning processes about transdisciplinary integration in projects, programs and beyond be induced?
  • Which leadership models and skills support transdisciplinary integration?


Hoffmann, S.; Thompson Klein, J.; Pohl, C. (2019) Linking transdisciplinary research projects with science and practice at large: introducing insights from knowledge utilization, Environmental Science and Policy, 102, 36-42, doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2019.08.011, Institutional Repository
Hitziger, M.; Aragrande, M.; Berezowski, J. A.; Canali, M.; Del Rio Vilas, V.; Hoffmann, S.; Igrejas, G.; Keune, H.; Lux, A.; Bruce, M.; Palenberg, M. A.; Pohl, C.; Radeski, M.; Richter, I.; Robledo Abad, C.; Salerno, R. H.; Savic, S.; Schirmer, J.; Vogler, B. R.; Rüegg, S. R. (2019) EVOLvINC: evaluating knowledge integration capacity in multistakeholder governance, Ecology and Society, 24(2), 36 (16 pp.), doi:10.5751/ES-10935-240236, Institutional Repository
Maag, S.; Alexander, T. J.; Kase, R.; Hoffmann, S. (2018) Indicators for measuring the contributions of individual knowledge brokers, Environmental Science and Policy, 89, 1-9, doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2018.06.002, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S.; Pohl, C.; Hering, J. G. (2017) Methods and procedures of transdisciplinary knowledge integration: empirical insights from four thematic synthesis processes, Ecology and Society, 22(1), 27 (17 pp.), doi:10.5751/ES-08955-220127, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S.; Pohl, C.; Hering, J. G. (2017) Exploring transdisciplinary integration within a large research program: empirical lessons from four thematic synthesis processes, Research Policy, 46(3), 678-692, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2017.01.004, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S. (2016) Transdisciplinary knowledge integration within large research programs, GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 25(3), 201-203, doi:10.14512/gaia.25.3.14, Institutional Repository
Larsen, T. A.; Hoffmann, S.; Lüthi, C.; Truffer, B.; Maurer, M. (2016) Emerging solutions to the water challenges of an urbanizing world, Science, 352(6288), 928-933, doi:10.1126/science.aad8641, Institutional Repository


Group leader

Dr. Sabine Hoffmann Group Leader, Cluster: ITD Tel. +41 58 765 6818 Send Mail

Scientific Assistant

Lisa Deutsch Doctoral Student, Cluster: ITD Tel. +41 58 765 5326 Send Mail
Dr. Benjamin Hofmann Postdoctoral Researcher Tel. +41 58 765 5948 Send Mail

Current projects

The INTEGRATE project aims at strengthening inter- and transdisciplinary integration within and across the strategic research program Wings.
Wings is an inter- and transdisciplinary strategic research program that strives to develop novel non-grid-connected water and sanitation systems that can function as comparable alternatives to network-based systems.

Past projects

The National Research Programme "Sustainable Water Management" (NRP 61) developed scientific foundations and methods for sustainable management of Switzerland's water resources.