The aim of transdisciplinary research is to contribute to societal change, whether this means new infrastructures and products, adapted legal framework conditions or altered patterns of behaviour. Under this topic line, we explore how research projects can be supported in terms of systematically reflecting on their societal effects and thereby increasing their potential effectiveness.

How Can We Reflect on Effects?

TDR considers complex real-world problems and aims to contribute to their solution, so it is essential that research projects consciously address their societal effectiveness. Research funding bodies also increasingly want to know what effects the planned projects are aiming for and how these can be traced. For a long time, various specialist communities have been debating how to describe, capture and evaluate the societal effects of transdisciplinary research. The literature includes mainly conceptual but increasingly also empirical contributions. Thus far, very few manageable tools have been developed to enable transdisciplinary research projects to systematically reflect on and describe their societal effects – whether independently or with external support. This is where the research by the Centre for Technology and Society (ZTG) within the tdAcademy comes in.

Bringing Academia and Practice Together

First of all, we gather the existing knowledge from the literature – the aim here is to use this basis to develop a manageable set of methods that we can then test empirically and develop further. We invite projects from different spheres of activity and in different project phases to reflect – guided by the method – on the societal effects they are aiming for or have achieved. Working with the “Theory of Change” (ToC) is at the core of the method set. The discussions bring together project partners from academia and practice; we support processes of reflection with facilitation and evaluation. Over the course of the trial, our aim is to iteratively improve the method set and adapt it to different demands – e.g. applying it at the start, during or after completion of the project. During the discussions, the participants become aware of the different perspectives on the effectiveness of the project and of which implicit assumptions about impact pathways are prevalent within the team. A common basic understanding and regular reviewing of whether any assumptions have been borne out and whether the desired effects have been achieved may contribute to the success of the project.

The Power of the Community

In the tdAcademy we explicitly believe in the knowledge and power of the community. This is why we bring together representatives of all participating projects in a dialogue forum where they can collectively reflect on their own experiences with the tools and come up with new ideas for how to develop them further. We run a reflection workshop where we ask experts on the topic of societal effectiveness to enrich and validate our results with their knowledge. The aim here is also to reflect critically on the methods used: For what purposes and goals is the ToC suitable? Is the heuristic of orders and forms of effects we employed helpful? To what extent can impact pathways be traced?

Bringing Together Knowledge Bases

We invite academics to join our Guest and Fellowship Programme who are already working on particular questions in the field of societal effectiveness. This is how we gather knowledge bases, develop them collectively, and make them available to the tdCommunity. Our first group of fellows brings together researchers from transdisciplinary sustainability, development and health research who are primarily concerned with societal effects in their respective communities. Our aim with this group is to tease out the commonalities and differences in the approaches and establish how far common approaches can be productive.

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15. August 2023

Getting to know transdisciplinary methods in rural areas of Brandenburg – A report on the second international tdAcademy Summer School

The second international tdAcademy Summer School took place in 2023 and found positive resonance once again. 19 Master and PhD students with very different disciplinary and geographic backgrounds came together in Bad Freienwalde from 17th to 22nd September to learn about transdisciplinary methods and to apply them in an exemplary way to questions in rural areas of north-eastern Brandenburg. For all participants, this was an exciting and enriching continuation of the Summer School cooperation between the tdAcademy team at the ZTG and the ISST of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC).

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4. Mai 2023

New publication of the Fellow Group "Societal Impact" published

The tdAcademy Fellow Group "Societal Impact" present the results of their collaboration on " Measuring and Evaluating Societal Impact" in their paper recently published in GAIA. Read now!

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2. Dezember 2022

Keeping a continuous eye on impact - results of the reflection workshop

In November 2022, Josefa Kny and Martina Schäfer (ZTG/TU Berlin) organised a digital reflection workshop on preliminary findings of topic line 1 "Societal Effects", discussed and enriched by comments from Arnim Wiek and Flurina Schneider.

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1. Oktober 2022

Transdisciplinary methods with sea view – A report of the 1st tdAcademy Summer School

In September 2022, ZTG together with ISST/UPC conducted the first international tdAcademy Summer School. 27 master students and PhD students gathered in the Alt Empordà region. 

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30. Juli 2022

Video (EN): Webinar on developing Theories of Change in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts

In the webinar „Keep rol(l)ing! Developing Theories of Change in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts“ on July 12, 2022, the tdAcademy team at ZTG and Sabine Hoffmann (eawag) presented the results of their collaborative working process.

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27. Juli 2022

Impact Workshops enter the second round

In 2022, the Impact Workshops in Topic Line 1 "Societal Effects" enter the second round. Here we asked participants for feedback after their second Impact Workshop. 

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1. April 2022

Impact orientation is an ongoing topic! Results from the dialog forum

In March 2022, topic line 1 held a dialogue forum to present and discuss preliminary results and to stimulate exchange among participants.

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15. Dezember 2021

Video (German only): Florian Knutzen on participating in our Impact Workshop

Florian Knutzen (GERICS, Helmholtz Center Hereon) talks about his experiences from our Impact Workshop.

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20. September 2021

#ITD21 Session: Call for Contributions "How to assess societal impact of research"

At the ITD Conference 2021, topic line 1 will be present with a session on impact assessment and reflection. Interested researchers can already contribute in advance.

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15. September 2021

ITD Session: Potentials and limitations of Theory of Change (ToC)

In preparation for the session, we present the submissions for the ITD workshop on ToC.

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20. August 2021

ITD Session: How to assess societal impact of research

In preparation for the session, we present the submissions for the ITD workshop on impact assessment.

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26. Juli 2021

Video: (German) Christoph Siemers on Impact Workshop

Christoph Siemers from Stadtentwässerung Braunschweig GmbH talks about his experiences and impressions of the tdAcademy impact workshop. 

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22. Juli 2021

Video: Flurin Cappis on Impact Workshop

Flurin Cappis from the Economic, Energy and Environment Directorate of the Canton Bern on the tdAcademy Impact Workshop.

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22. Juli 2021

Video: Caroline Fernolend on Impact Workshop

Caroline Fernolend (Mihai Eminescu Trust) reports on her experience from the tdAcademy Impact Workshop.

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8. Juli 2021

Video (German): Feedback on Impact Workshop

Several workshops on impact reflection have taken place in the topic line Societal Effects. Participant Stephanie Moser (CDE, University of Bern) shares her insights in the video (in German).

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10. Juni 2021

Video (German): Feedback on Impact Workshop

The first workshops on impact reflection have taken place in the topic line Societal Effects. Participant Hannah Sachße shares her insights in the video (in German).

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