Learning in Transdisciplinary Collaboration

Climate change represents one of our greatest societal challenges in terms of the scale of the impact it will likely have, its complexity, and the need for global cooperation to develop lasting solutions (Turnpenny et al 2009; Reid et al 2010). The UN's 2016 Sustainable Development Report calls for new working arrangements and "greater dialogue among scientists, engineers, practitioners, stakeholders, and policymakers" to address global sustainability challenges like climate change (United Nations 2016: 86). An essential ingredient to navigating the complex nature of the climate challenge in these types of transdisciplinary collaborations is social learning (Kristjanson et al 2014). However, our understanding of how to embed social learning processes into transdisciplinary programs has not kept pace with our recognition of the need to do so. Advancing our understanding of this knowledge gap should ultimately contribute to more socially impactful research.


Our research projects address this gap and seek to deepen our understanding of learning in transdisciplinary collaborations on climate change. To this end, we examine a number of international transdisciplinary programs on climate and development challenges: The Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA); the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN); and Future Climate For Africa (FCFA). The following make up the overarching research objectives of the projects:


  1. To understand how learning design, dynamics and facilitation influence participants’ perceptions of, and engagement with social learning processes in program-based communities of practice.
  2. To document the contributions that the learning processes facilitated within these two programs have made to program outcomes.


Our research projects also respond to calls for closer collaboration between scholars of learning and pedagogy and those of environmental science and policy, providing impetus for wider and more intensive collaboration in the future. Through our research design, partnership, and a novel approach to knowledge mobilization, this work will also offer practical guidance to the participating programs and organizations, bilateral and multilateral funders of research and action on climate change, and the wider community of researchers and practitioners working in this field. It will point to ways that the planning, design and implementation of collaborative action on climate change can better integrate social learning practices, and well-evidenced stories of why this is of value.


Funded by:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Insight Grants 

Fonds de Recherche Québec Société et Culture 


blane.harvey [at] mcgill.ca (Dr. Blane Harvey)
514-398-4527 ext. 00506
Department of Integrated Studies in Education
3700 McTavish, Room 365
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec H3A 1Y2

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