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?


Hofmann, B. (2024). Persuasive innovators for environmental policy: green business influence through technology-based arguing. Environmental Politics, 33(1), 45-69. doi:10.1080/09644016.2023.2178515, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S. (2023). Commentary. In B. Vienni-Baptista, I. Fletcher, & C. Lyall (Eds.), Foundations of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research (pp. 149-154). Bristol: Bristol University Press. , Institutional Repository
Hofmann, B., Ingold, K., Stamm, C., Ammann, P., Eggen, R. I. L., Finger, R., … Hoffmann, S. (2023). Barriers to evidence use for sustainability: insights from pesticide policy and practice. Ambio, 52(2), 425-439. doi:10.1007/s13280-022-01790-4, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S., Deutsch, L., Thompson Klein, J., & O'Rourke, M. (2022). Integrate the integrators! A call for establishing academic careers for integration experts. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9, 147 (10 pp.). doi:10.1057/s41599-022-01138-z, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S., Weber, C., & Mitchell, C. (2022). Principles for leading, learning, and synthesizing in inter- and transdisciplinary research. BioScience, 72(10), 963-977. doi:10.1093/biosci/biac057, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S. (2022). Städtische Abwassersysteme: Dezentrale Abwassersysteme mit Wertstoffrückgewinnung als Schlüssel zur Erreichung des SDG 6. gwf Wasser, Abwasser, 163(6), 46-47. , Institutional Repository
Hofmann, B. (2022). Mainstreaming Earth System Governance into the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Earth System Governance, 12, 100139 (6 pp.). doi:10.1016/j.esg.2022.100139, Institutional Repository
Hofmann, B. (2022). Oil pollution and black carbon in the Arctic. Dynamic shipping governance in a rapidly warming region. In P. G. Harris (Ed.), Routledge handbook of marine governance and global environmental change (pp. 228-239). doi:10.4324/9781315149745-24, Institutional Repository
Hofmann, B., Kolcava, D., & Thaler, P. (2022). The role of Switzerland in European electricity governance. Shaper, follower, or outsider?. In P. Hettich & A. Kachi (Eds.), Swiss energy governance. Political, economic and legal challenges and opportunities in the energy transition (pp. 67-92). doi:10.1007/978-3-030-80787-0_4, Institutional Repository
Pearce, B. B. J., Deutsch, L., Fry, P., Marafatto, F. F., & Lieu, J. (2022). Going beyond the AHA! moment: insight discovery for transdisciplinary research and learning. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9, 123 (10 pp.). doi:10.1057/s41599-022-01129-0, Institutional Repository
Thaler, P., & Hofmann, B. (2022). The impossible energy trinity: energy security, sustainability, and sovereignty in cross-border electricity systems. Political Geography, 94, 102579 (11 pp.). doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2021.102579, Institutional Repository
Deutsch, L., & Hoffmann, S. (2021). Five reflective questions for integrative leadership in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts. doi:10.5281/zenodo.5795404, Institutional Repository
Deutsch, L., Belcher, B., Claus, R., & Hoffmann, S. (2021). Leading inter- and transdisciplinary research: lessons from applying theories of change to a strategic research program. Environmental Science and Policy, 120, 29-41. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2021.02.009, Institutional Repository
Pohl, C., Thompson Klein, J., Hoffmann, S., Mitchell, C., & Fam, D. (2021). Conceptualising transdisciplinary integration as a multidimensional interactive process. Environmental Science and Policy, 118, 18-26. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2020.12.005, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S., Feldmann, U., Bach, P. M., Binz, C., Farrelly, M., Frantzeskaki, N., … Udert, K. M. (2020). A research agenda for the future of urban water management: exploring the potential of non-grid, small-grid, and hybrid solutions. Environmental Science and Technology, 54(9), 5312-5322. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b05222, Institutional Repository
Lüthi, C., Willetts, J., & Hoffmann, S. (2020). Editorial: city-wide sanitation: the urban sustainability challenge. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 8, 585418 (4 pp.). doi:10.3389/fenvs.2020.585418, Institutional Repository
Hitziger, M., Aragrande, M., Berezowski, J. A., Canali, M., Del Rio Vilas, V., Hoffmann, S., … 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
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
Maurer, M., & Hoffmann, S. (2019). Eaux usées: des égouts à assainir. Volkswirtschaft, 89(6), 12-15. Retrieved from, Institutional Repository
Maurer, M., & Hoffmann, S. (2019). Sanierungsfall Abwassersystem. Volkswirtschaft, 89(6), 12-15. Retrieved from, Institutional Repository
Pohl, C., Fam, D., Hoffmann, S., & Mitchell, C. (2019). Exploring Julie Thompson Klein's framework for analysis of boundary work. Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies, 37(2), 62-89. , 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). 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., 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. (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
Hoffmann, S., Hunkeler, D., & Maurer, M. (2014). Approvisionnement en eau et assainissement des eaux usées durables en Suisse. Défis et mesures possibles. Synthèse thématique 3 dans le cadre du programme national de recherche PNR 61 «Gestion durable de l'eau». Retrieved from, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S., Hunkeler, D., & Maurer, M. (2014). Nachhaltige Wasserversorgung und Abwasserentsorgung in der Schweiz. Herausforderungen und Handlungsoptionen. Thematische Synthese 3 im Rahmen des Nationalen Forschungsprogramms NFP 61 «Nachhaltige Wassernutzung». Retrieved from, Institutional Repository
Hoffmann, S. (2013). Property, possession and natural resource management: towards a conceptual clarification. Journal of Institutional Economics, 9(1), 39-60. doi:10.1017/S1744137412000264, Institutional Repository
Hering, J. G., Hoffmann, S., Meierhofer, R., Schmid, M., & Peter, A. J. (2012). Assessing the societal benefits of applied research and expert consulting in water science and technology. GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 21(2), 95-101. doi:10.14512/gaia.21.2.6, 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
Donata Dettwiler Research Assistant Tel. +41 58 765 5390 Send Mail
Hanna Salomon Doctoral Student, Cluster: ITD Tel. +41 58 765 5187 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.
Sustainable transformation of the Swiss agriculture to internalized negative external effects of pesticide use.
The research project focuses on watershed management in Swiss mountain areas, aiming at increasing the resilience of mountain ecosystems and meeting societal needs regarding natural resource use and protection.

Past projects

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

Sustainable Water Management (NRP 61)