Transdisciplinary case studies are an appropriate method when dealing with complex, unstructured and so called “ill-defined” problems, where the initial and target states of the system are difficult to define and where approaches for solving the problem are not known yet.
Jahn et al. describe transdisciplinarity as “a reflexive research approach that addresses societal problems by means of interdisciplinary collaboration as well as the collaboration between researchers and extra-scientific actors; its aim is to enable mutual learning processes between science and society; integration is the main cognitive challenge of the research process” (2012, p. 4). Transdisciplinarity hence describes a shift from science on/about society towards science for/with society and hence goes beyond participatory methods but actively involves stakeholders in the research process, e.g. by commonly formulating the research objectives and contributing their knowledge and experiences (cp. Scholz & Marks 2001; Scholz et al. 2006). Transdisciplinary teaching does not only contribute to students’ learning, but educators and practitioners learn as well.
The embedded case study approach is developed in three phases:
- Identifying a societal relevant problem
- Analysing the problem
- Bringing results to fruition (Jahn et al. 2012; Pohl & Hirsch Hadorn 2007).
Phase 1 includes the problem framing and structuring by all stakeholders involved (researchers, students, practitioners), which leads to the formulation of research questions and a shared goal. In phase 2 the project is being executed. By applying different methods (e.g. system dynamics, future workshops, MAUT, etc.) the system is being analysed in order to co-develop innovative and solution-oriented knowledge. This knowledge then affects the development of strategies on how to tackle the case specific problem (phase 3). The challenge is to develop solutions that are of relevance for and meet the expectations of all stakeholders involved.
Stakeholders are actively involved in the research process in all phases.
Note: If you have the impression that a transdisciplinary case study approach, where a real societal problem is being addressed with a variety of stakeholders, is too comprehensive to be integrated in your university course, you may like to implement case study teaching first, where students work on real-world cases but without directly being involved.