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Transdisciplinary Summer School: 26 Nations, One Idea

2018-10-08 Often, complex problems can only be solved hand in hand: Since 2012, Professor Dr. Ulli Vilsmaier has organised the Td Summer School with participants from all over the world. Participants from Bangladesh, Kenya and Georgia reported that the first week of September saw five days of cooperative research at the interface between science and practice being discussed again.

Participants of this year's Td Summer School with a focus on interculturality came from Nepal, Chile, Malaysia, Kurdistan, Ghana, Mexico and Japan. They are scientists, NGO founders, or run small businesses. ‘In many countries, cooperative forms of research at the interface between science and society are much more common than in Middle Europe. Many Latin American universities in particular are very strong in this field,’ explains Ulli Vilsmaier, administrator of the Chair of Transdisciplinary Methods. Since 2016, Vilsmaier has also been a guest in Latin America with the Summer School: ‘We cooperate with universities that have established special forms of transdisciplinary research in order to learn from one another and pass on knowledge.’

The Td Summer School 2018 was organised by the Methods Centre in cooperation with the UNESCO Chair of Higher Education for Sustainable Development, the research team of the CCP project and the Bridging the Great Divide project of Leuphana University in cooperation with the Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico and the Nodo de Transdisciplina de Red Temática de Socioecosistamas y Sustentabilidad de CONACyT, Mexico.

The WHO estimates that between 1.4 and 4.3 million people become ill worldwide with cholera every year. It has been estimated that there will be around 800,000 additional cases of /Escherichia coli /associated diarrhoea in Bangladesh in the near term (2016–2035), when temperatures are projected to increase by 0.8°C. Climate change could cause the severe diarrhoeal disease to spread further explains Mohammed Mofizur Rahman, ecologist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

There, he belongs to an inter- and transdisciplinary team dedicated to countering epidemics: ‘We work together with health scientists, nutritionists, epidemiologists, demographers, social and behavioural researchers, amongst others.’ For Rahman, inter- and transdisciplinarity are the proper answers to complex health questions due to environmental change. ‘As an ecologist, I work in the field, laboratory and with people. The results from our studies need to be translated to the society in a meaningful way. I can't convince people with tables full of figures. Scientific jargon is not effective to the rural settings where people lack proper formal education. At the Transdisciplinary Summer School was a fascinating experience of methodological orientation, science communication and decision making. I have learned a lot about case studies, that is to say, how to study individual cases and how I can reach people better with stories?’

Solving problems together with the local population

‘In Kenya, we do a lot of transdisciplinary work, because we know that many problems can only be solved together with the local population,’ explains Fonda Jane Awuor. The socio-economist is writing her master's thesis and is based at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI). Scientists carry out multidisciplinary and collaborative research on marine and freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Then they make recommendations on management.

‘I work hand in hand with natural scientists. My job is to assess the economic side (like aquaculture value chain analysis, community outreach etc)’ Fonda Jane Awuor explains. For example, many fish farmers are faced with the challenge of accessing affordable fish feeds and quality fish seed. KMFRI aims at finding solutions to such challenges which have been a bottleneck towards sustainable fish production.  Also, our research aims at enhancing economic empowerment of vulnerable groups like women and youth through broadening business opportunities. ‘Transdisciplinarity is so valuable to me because it improves everything. Not only we do research; we make changes happen. The summer school is, therefore, the ideal place for me to exchange ideas with researchers from all over the world and to get to know their approaches and methods.

‘Transdisciplinary Research can lead the sustainable development in Georgia’.

High alpine mountain ranges of the Great Caucasus, the cave town of Wardzia or the Black Sea beaches: Georgia abounds in cultural treasures and breath-taking landscapes. It is no surprise that this South Caucasian country is increasingly transforming into a popular holiday destination. The economist Merab Khokhobaia, scientist of Tbilisi State University would like to help shape this development in a sustainable way – together with representatives of scientists from the different disciplines and society:

‘Transdisciplinary Research can lead the sustainable development in Georgia’. I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to exchange ideas at Leuphana and get to know the other participants’ projects,’ explains the scientist. Expanding tourism can help an aspiring country like Georgia to create jobs, reduce the poverty, but also to create more awareness among the population for the value of its cultural heritage. Khokhobaia expects not only positive consequences from intensified tourism in Georgia: ‘We should to be prepared to reduce the negative effects of tourism industry.’ As he sees it, it will be the universities’ job to build sustainable tourism structures through the active collaboration with the society.


Apl. Prof. Dr. Ulli Vilsmaier


Author: Marietta Hülsmann. Translated by Beatrice Goutfer.