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Categories: Learning & implementation, Academic article, Africa

9 February 2023

Achieving the transformations required to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address climate action demands requires​ new ways of mobilising, weaving together, and applying knowledge. It also involves​ linking research, policymaking, planning, and action​ working with the different needs and interests of a wide variety of societal actors​.

transdisciplinary research offers a promising, holistic approach to foster such transformations. Reseachers from ARA member the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town explore this potential in Africa in a an article published in the journal Ecosystems and People in Januaray 2023


The transformations required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals across the African continent demand new ways of mobilising, weaving together, and applying knowledge. Research, policymaking, planning, and action must be effectively inter-linked to address complex sustainability challenges and the different needs and interests of societal actors.

Transdisciplinarity (TD) – the co-production of knowledge across disciplines and with non-academic actors – offers a promising, holistic approach to foster such transformations. Yet, despite increased application of TD over the past two decades, disciplinary and sectoral silos persist. TD is not well embedded in African academic institutions and, consequently, much SDG-related research is too narrowly framed and divorced from the action space to be effective. There is an urgent need to work collectively across disciplines and society for transformation towards more sustainable and equitable development pathways.

Capacities to undertake collaborative, impactful research must be strengthened, and changes in research culture are needed to support relationship building. We explore these issues by drawing on two recent online social learning processes with researchers and practitioners working on sustainability issues and TD. In each process, we built on actors’ own experiences of TD by investigating institutional, practical, and theoretical challenges and enablers of TD.

Here, we synthesise our learnings, alongside key literature, and explore avenues to better: a) promote and support TD within academic institutions across Africa; b) resource TD for sustainable partnerships, and c) strengthen TD practices and impacts to support transformation to sustainability across diverse places and contexts.


The paper's lead author, Sheona Shackleton from ACDI, presented the papers background and findings to the ARA in a presentation available here.

Transdisciplinary research in Africa

Fostering transdisciplinary research for equitable and sustainable development pathways across Africa: what changes are needed?

Read the paper

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