Sharing thoughts and practice experiences on interdisciplinarity between Portuguese and Finnish institutions

Portugal and Finland are quite different countries but share the fact of both being peripheral in Europe. What about understanding interdisciplinarity (ID) as the way to address societal challenges: are we in the same page? Between March 2nd and March 11th, College Food, Farming and Forestry (F3) – a network of twelve institutes from the Lisbon University gathered to make use of ID in sustainability sciences – was represented in a mission to Finland aiming at learning on the challenges posed by interdisciplinarity/transdisciplinarity knowledge creation by the programming and funding of science and sharing experiences and “lessons learnt” in real “twin” ID networks. The mission was hosted by the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (TINT), which facilitated visits to institutes that fund or employ ID to address sustainability science subjects, similar to those tackled by College F3, namely the Academy of Finland (AkA), the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (LUKE) and the Helsinki University Centre for Environment (HENVI). This miscellaneous combination allowed collecting information from ID “thinkers”, “funders” and “practitioners”. Interestingly, mostly the same questions are perceived by the three typologies of institutes and are shared by networks from Finnish and Portuguese organizations. Motivation is what really is needed for ID and different drivers exist for individuals and institutions. For individuals, the emotional (“getting excited” about the project), boldness, open-mindness, and curiosity, drive adoption of ID, while institutions rely on ID as a need to address societal needs and find solutions, and a need for accessing to new funding mechanisms. The easiest way is to build the environment, by promoting multidisciplinary forums that will naturally gather people and will result in the new ID language. Raise public awareness and policy advise can be a way of prove ID usefulness to the university and prompt academic rewards. ID research may be better suited for research institutes (mission oriented) that for universities (that benefits from the sum of individual successes). At the institutional level, a way to leverage ID is to outline top-down “umbrella” programmes that promote a dialogue between the individual disciplinary ongoing projects. Leadership, new attitudes, capacity building in ID, academic rewards for risk taking and consent for failure at the university are needed, together with an institutional framework that includes rules, incentive systems and organization models, to match the extra money needed. Awareness in relevant international agencies and policy makers is mandatory to attain funding. ID is hampered by career incentives that favors disciplinary focus, lack of ID management capacity, fixed traditions based on “silos” within departments and disciplines, leading disciplines or shortage of funding with undesirable reliance on private funding. Individual attitudes such as conflicts between researchers, different languages (baseline grounds need to define but should be adjusted based on continuous dialogues) are additional barriers for ID. ID is not an end itself, but a means of advancing knowledge and an ID project can be treated similarly do a disciplinary project because the focus is on how to address the question. It is agreed that ID is the priority and the best solution to address complex “real world” challenges. ID programmes built by connecting, finding a path and filling gaps between disciplinary projects are a way of translating ID knowledge to address societal challenges and prompting transdisciplinary co-creation of knowledge. Collaboration possibilities were identified.

by Luis Goulão, Science Manager at College Food, Farming and Forestry (F3), University of Lisbon – Portugal. 18th April 2019