1st Edition

Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Failures Lessons Learned from Cautionary Tales

Edited By Dena Fam, Michael O'Rourke Copyright 2021
    300 Pages 24 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    288 Pages 24 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Unlike other volumes in the current literature, this book provides insight for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary researchers and practitioners on what doesn’t work. Documenting detailed case studies of project failure matters, not only as an illustration of experienced challenges but also as projects do not always follow step-by-step protocols of preconceived and theorised processes.

    Bookended by a framing introduction by the editors and a conclusion written by Julie Thompson Klein, each chapter ends with a reflexive section that synthesizes lessons learned and key take-away points for the reader. Drawing on a wide range of international case studies and with a strong environmental thread throughout, the book reveals a range of failure scenarios for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects, including:

    • Projects that did not get off the ground;

    • Projects that did not have the correct personnel for specified objectives;

    • Projects that did not reach their original objectives but met other objectives;

    • Projects that failed to anticipate important differences among collaborators.

    Illustrating causal links in real life projects, this volume will be of significant relevance to scholars and practitioners looking to overcome the challenges of conducting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research.


    1. Theoretical and empirical perspectives on failure: an introduction
    2. Michael O’Rourke and Dena Fam

    3. Rethinking failure: using design science theory and methods, including design thinking, for successful transdisciplinary health and social interventions
    4. Linda Neuhauser, Talya Brettler, Dennis Boyle

      Part 1: Institutional environments associated with failure

    5. Stem cells and serendipity: unburdening social scientists’ feelings of failure
    6. Isabel Fletcher and Catherine Lyall

    7. A fragile existence: a transdisciplinary food systems research program cut short
    8. Bill Bellotti and Fred D’Agostino

    9. Over-promising and under-delivering: institutional and social networks influencing the emergence of urine diversion systems in Queensland, Australia
    10. Cara Beal, Dena Fam, Stewart Clegg

      Part 2: Failures and responses associated with collaboration and stakeholder engagement

    11. Failure and what to do next: lessons from the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative
    12. Michael O’Rourke, Stephen Crowley, Sanford D. Eigenbrode, Stephanie E. Vasko

    13. Failure to consider local political processes and power relations in the development of a transdisciplinary research project plan: learning lessons from a stormy start
    14. Dr. Irena Leisbet Ceridwen Connon

    15. A week in the life of a transdisciplinary researcher: failures in research to support policy for water quality management in New Zealand’s South Island
    16. Melissa Robson-Williams, Bruce Small, Roger Robson-Williams

      Part 3: Personal reflection on failed initiatives through an autoethnographic lens

    17. Reframing failure and the Indigenous doctoral journey
    18. Jason De Santolo

    19. Transdisciplinary research: challenges, excessive demands, and a story of disquiet
    20. Martina Ukowitz

      Part 4: Failure in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary educational programs

    21. The challenges of studying place: learning from failures of an experimental interdisciplinary and community-engaged environmental studies course
    22. Valerie Imbruce, Miroslava Prazak

    23. Transdisciplinary learning within tertiary institutions: a space to skin your knees
    24. Dena Fam, Abby Mellick Lopes, Cynthia Mitchell

    25. Learning to fail forward: operationalizing productive failure for tackling complex environmental problems
    26. BinBin J Pearce

    27. Failing and the perception of failure in student-driven transdisciplinary projects
    28. Ulli Vilsmaier, Annika Thalheimer


    29. Failure is an option: lessons for success

              Julie Thompson Klein


    Dena Fam is Associate Professor and Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. She has a decade of experience developing transdisciplinary programs and projects with an interest in negotiating the challenges of cross sectoral integration of knowledge.

    Michael O’Rourke is Professor of Philosophy and faculty member in AgBioResearch and Environmental Science and Policy at Michigan State University. He is Director of the Center for Interdisciplinarity and Director of the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative, an NSF-sponsored research initiative that investigates philosophical approaches to facilitating interdisciplinary research.