Notes for the panel on "Creating interdisciplinary collaboration" at the Arizona State University, 23 September 2019, by Maja Kuzmanovic & Nik Gaffney.

“What are the risks, problems and rewards, and what are some best practices in fostering a successful interdisciplinary project?”

Risks, problems and rewards tend to be context specific - most of them can't be generalised for all interdisciplinary collaborations. However, there are a few that can.


  • expect to be surprised (+/-)
  • often unexpected and more widely relevant outcomes, towards more systemic change
  • continuous learning, opening of horizons…
  • once agreements are reached, more work can be done in a shorter amount of time with people from different disciplines
  • a remedy for overconfidence (constant experiencing of “i know that i don't know”)
  • finding relevance of one's work outside of the narrow domain of a discipline; methods from one field applied in many others.


  • expect to be surprised (+/-)
  • things will likely take longer and require more resources than you expect
  • it is difficult to specify concrete outcomes beforehand
  • people can be reluctant to leave the comfort zones of their own discipline. No real collaboration, exchange and respect between different experts involved. The results remain within disciplinary boundaries and have no real impact outside of their narrow problem domains.
  • a mismatch of priorities between research and production, theory and practice
  • reliance on experts without sufficient understanding of the problem domain.

Some things to keep in mind

About yourself

  • Embrace your beginner's mind, be curious
  • Be aware of unconscious biases
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Don't take yourself too seriously, just seriously enough. It's important to laugh with each other
  • Despite what you might think, you are not superhuman, sometimes it is better to share your burden with others, and sometimes the best thing you can do is to give up. Some collaborations are not meant to be.

About your collaborators

  • It is just as important who you work with as what you work on
  • Your collaborators are sentient beings sharing a human experience; field affiliations and job titles are secondary
  • Find resonances between collaborators. From a place of resonance it is easier to probe the unavoidable differences
  • Cultivate an ecology of practices, grounded in “experimental togetherness” (Stengers ecologyofpractices.pdf)
  • Build in sufficient diversity, but also enough overlaps and redundancies
  • Foster “unholy alliances”
  • Socialising and relationship building is an inextricable part of collaboration
  • Collaborations can have expiration dates, or can grow to become whole communities or cultures

About interdisciplinary collaboration

  • Collaborate on something you all care about, aware that everyone has their diff. motivations, priorities, etc
  • Approach your area of interest from different perspectives for multiple benefits.
  • Work on the edges between disciplines. True inter/transdisciplinary collaboration doesn't just use skills from one field to improve another (artists- make slides look good, technologists - technicians)
  • Question the vocabulary; the same words can mean very different things for different people.
  • Acknowledge and apply multiple ways of knowing (including tacit, embodied, subtractive, tinkering…)
  • In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is - Yogi Berra
  • Share your sources, processes and results
  • Apply adaptive evaluation cycles to increase resilience and heed early warning signals

About the (transdisciplinary) collaborative process

  • Hold space for unexpected things to emerge
  • Encourage peer-learning and co-creation
  • Transform every statement into a hypothesis
  • Focus on options
  • Don’t get consumed by facts and data
  • Conduct lots of iterative experiments, scale up or change with every iteration to reduce risk
  • Do not take your collaborators for granted. Celebrate successes, failures and everything in between.
  • notes_on_transdisciplinarity.txt
  • Last modified: 2023-03-13 12:17
  • by maja