Demystifying interdisciplinary working (in Valuing Nature)

11 Jun 2020

To address the challenges that we face in these times of unprecedented change we need transformative approaches. Whilst focussed disciplinary endeavours remain crucial, to tackle these “wicked” problems we will also need to move beyond our usual boundaries and into the realm of interdisciplinary working.

Interdisciplinary teams

Interdisciplinary working has been defined as “projects that integrate both academic researchers from different unrelated disciplines and user-group participants to reach a common goal”. Working in interdisciplinary teams is not a new concept but as we are increasingly required to work beyond our own disciplines it is worth taking some time to consider what this means and how we can do this most effectively. There are positives and negatives to working in this way, it is both frustrating and inspiring, time-consuming, and rewarding.


There are also numerous barriers to interdisciplinarity including miscommunication, poor recognition, and limited funding opportunities. However, the overriding consensus of recent surveys and discussions is that interdisciplinary working is needed now more than ever, and despite its challenges, it is a highly worthwhile pursuit. To support interdisciplinary working myself and colleagues on the Valuing Nature Programme have drawn together a wealth of experiences to create the Demystify Interdisciplinary working report. This explains the why, what and how of interdisciplinary working and includes the positives and negatives, barriers, and solutions, with an aim to smooth the path to more effective interdisciplinary working. This also includes seven core principles with accompanying top tips as a succinct guide to interdisciplinary success.

Thinking in individual disciplinary terms

Thinking in individual disciplinary terms is as crucial as ever in order to progress specialist approaches. However, to address the complex technical, societal and environmental challenges we also need to break down the disciplinary silos, think outside the usual boxes, and bring a broad range of approaches together to best understand and provide solutions to these challenges.

The valuing of nature is notable in requiring research that brings together a variety of disciplines. This need was recognised by the Valuing Nature Programme, and for the last five years a host of interdisciplinary endeavours have been undertaken including projects, workshops, conferences and secondments.  As the programme draws to a close this report brings together experiences of the contributors and the broader audience from two events, to share the lessons learned, in order to ensure the improved success of interdisciplinary working into the future.  In this report, the reader is given evidence on why interdisciplinary working is needed now more than ever, what interdisciplinarity is, and how it can be successfully achieved and sustained.

The report includes 7 Principles for Interdisciplinary Working, which are simple to follow but crucial to success.  It goes further to provide suggestions for what needs to be done to make interdisciplinary working the norm rather than the exception.

The intended audience is broad – both specialists and non-specialists with an interest in working beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries and across the science-policy interface will find this report of interest.  It is, after all true, that interdisciplinary working can just as equally occur between a government official and a biologist, as between an economist and an artist.

Whilst interdisciplinary working is universally accepted as challenging the resultant benefits are equally acknowledged as substantial. For academics it can be stimulating and lead to groundbreaking collaborations; for user groups, it can radically improve the relevance of answers provided to difficult questions; and for research commissioners, it can drive the development of impactful proposals and projects.

This much-awaited report is a definite feather in the cap of the Valuing Nature Programme and Network.

For more information click here.