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Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHAPE-ID (Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-02-01 to 2020-07-31

SHAPE-ID addresses a longstanding but unresolved challenge: how to better support meaningful integration of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research (IDR/TDR) with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Addressing the complex challenges the world faces demands expertise from those who study individuals, societies and cultures as well as those that pursue scientific knowledge and technological solutions. Many reports over the years have encouraged increasing AHSS integration, yet it is widely acknowledged that much more still needs to be done to make AHSS integration mainstream – perhaps unsurprising given the significant investment of time, money and infrastructure needed to reshape institutional cultures and create pathways across or between established disciplinary structures.

SHAPE-ID will produce a toolkit and recommendations to guide researchers, funders, policy makers and others towards better pathways to AHSS integration. The evidence-based toolkit will draw on project activities designed to learn from the existing literature and recommendations and from the experiences of those involved in setting the research agenda, designing funding programmes, shaping research careers and conducting research. The project’s main objectives are to review existing research contributing to understanding IDR/TDR; enable stakeholders to jointly explore best and poor practices of IDR/TDR and co-produce recommendations for AHSS integration; engage a panel of experts to validate approaches to enhancing IDR/TDR integration; produce a toolkit and recommendations to guide stakeholders towards successful pathways to AHSS integration; and build and maintain a stakeholder network to ensure knowledge transfer and dissemination of SHAPE-ID recommendations and outputs.
To date the project has completed an extensive review of the academic and policy literature on IDR/TDR and AHSS integration, a survey with researchers experienced in IDR/TDR and interviews with policymakers. Three workshops have been organised across Europe and three more were delayed by COVID-19 travel restrictions but have been rescheduled to take place online in September and October 2020. Simultaneously, the project has built, maintained and grown a network of contacts and engaged in an active programme of dissemination and communication, including presentations, meetings, web and social media and a new webinar series.
Work Package 2 undertook a systematic review of academic and policy literature to disentangle understandings of IDR/TDR, identify the factors that help or hinder it and analyse the implications for AHSS integration in IDR/TDR. A survey was undertaken with researchers engaged in IDR/TDR in Europe and a series of interviews were conducted with policymakers.

This research found plural understandings of IDR and TDR in the academic literature and a lack of shared understandings across academic and policy literatures. This reflects differences in practice and attitudes to IDR/TDR among different stakeholders and raises particular challenges for AHSS integration. In the policy literature the rhetoric of IDR is often used in a way that assumes only ‘problem-solving’ research and excludes other kinds of IDR/TDR, such as critical and philosophical approaches, potentially limiting the roles AHSS researchers may see for themselves in such projects.

The academic literature identified 25 factors that can help or hinder IDR/TDR, from personal qualities and motivations to disciplinary cultures and assumptions, institutional supports and the overall policy landscape, noting that these are context-dependent and many can either help or hinder depending for instance on the phase of the project. Tools and time to acknowledge and work with these factors are therefore critical in improving IDR/TDR. The survey and interviews confirmed the presence of these understandings and factors when practising IDR/TDR. Among the key barriers highlighted by the survey were career path issues, differences between academic cultures and disciplinary knowledges, and institutional factors. In particular, pursuing IDR/TDR careers was considered risky by researchers, with institutional reward systems, publication structures and funding programmes still primarily organised along disciplinary lines.

Recommendations emerging from this analysis point to a need for greater shared understanding through: 1) increased involvement of AHSS researchers and IDR/TDR experts in programme design and evaluation; 2) funding programmes that acknowledge the time and hidden work involved in building trust and aligning disciplinary perspectives in IDR/TDR; 3) support for increased capacity building through education and training in higher education institutions; 4) support to develop and maintain a toolkit to collate and share knowledge, resources and best practice on AHSS integration.

These findings will be validated and extended through six learning case workshops. Workshops bring together policymakers, funders, AHSS and STEM researchers, representatives of Research Performing Organisations and from industry, the cultural sector and civil society, to explore best and poor practices of IDR/TDR and produce recommendations for AHSS integration through co-creation activities. Completed workshops addressed AHSS integration for societal challenges research; integrating the Environmental Humanities into IDR/TDR projects; and transdisciplinary approaches to education for urban sustainability transitions (with the TrUST project, Politecnico di Torino). Upcoming workshops address the challenges of Artificial Intelligence for social good (with the University of Deusto, Bilbao); streamlining Digital Humanities research and infrastructure in the cultural heritage domain; and integrating the Arts and Humanities in IDR/TDR (with the Network for Transdisciplinary Research, Swiss Academies of Arts and Science).

The project Expert Panel who will contribute to validating results. A wide audience has been engaged through participation in the workshops and survey and through dissemination and communication activities including conference participation, a project newsletter, blog, website, social media and webinar series.
Results so far have synthesised knowledge of the enablers of and barriers to IDR/TDR and confirmed recommendations that have already been made many times but have been poorly implemented. Results have identified a gap in understanding between policy and academic literatures, reinforcing the need for a common toolkit to create a shared knowledge base. Project workshops are addressing the challenge of AHSS integration in the context of specific societal challenges and will provide insight into the role of IDR/TDR in addressing these challenges as well as into approaches for engaging in IDR/TDR. Results from the workshops will highlight areas where IDR/TDR and AHSS integration can contribute to addressing some of the major societal challenges of the day. Consultation with the SHAPE-ID Expert Panel and other international experts, such as the ITD Alliance Working Group on Toolkits, will validate project results and inform the development of the project’s toolkit. SHAPE-ID is actively raising the profile of the challenges of AHSS integration and how to address them and will continue to seek ways of engaging audiences in these discussions.