ACOLA has undertaken a study funded through the Australian Research Council into the question of interdisciplinary research in the area of sustainability. This multivalent program of research is designed to address two outstanding problems, one a key issue in research management, the other a national challenge. The former is the application of interdisciplinary research to the broad, problem-based research agendas of today and tomorrow. The latter issue – addressed as a test case for the methodological work conducted in the first part of the program – is how to use this understanding to find effective ways of approaching the array of challenges confronting Australia, with particular emphasis on sustainability.
ACOLA members have recognised that research aiming at addressing the major societal challenges and visionary ground-breaking new discoveries will increasingly require an interdisciplinary approach. The need for interdisciplinary research will continue to grow, particularly in applied fields, yet the Australian research system at times presents it with many challenges that need to be overcome. Generally funding bodies and research performers have operated in a world where research in single or closely related disciplines is the norm and interdisciplinary projects need to conform to policies and organisation structures for which they are ill-suited. While a wide range of high quality discipline research needs to continue to be supported as it provides the foundation for interdisciplinary programs, some changes in approach to funding and management are required.
A three phase approach
There are considerable benefits in encouraging interdisciplinary research, particularly where the objective of the research is to achieve useful economic, social, environmental or cultural outcomes. The real world does not always present its problems and opportunities conveniently aligned with traditional academic disciplines, so mechanisms are needed to facilitate interactions and collaborations between researchers working in widely different fields.
This second component of the program, The character of interdisciplinary research – examined through a sample of socio-environmental research projects, builds on the foundation established in Strengthening Interdisciplinary Research, examining in detail interdisciplinary research related to environmental sustainability.
A pilot research project and Evaluation report to test the findings from Making Interdisciplinary Research Work – Achieving a Sustainable Australia
ACOLA recognised that it would be useful to test the tentative evaluation framework through the development of a stand-alone research project that could be monitored and evaluated.
The a research project titled Assistive Health Technologies for Independent Living: A Pilot Study was commissioned. The Expert Working Group applied the findings and evaluation framework to the Pilot Study with the usefulness and appropriateness of that framework monitored over the ten-month life of the project.
Making Interdisciplinary Research Work (ARC Linkage Learned Academics Special Projects Funding 2010 project LS1000004) commenced in 2010 as a multiphase, multiyear, project in order to address two outstanding problems: the application of interdisciplinary research to broad, problem-based research and how to use this understanding to find effective ways of approaching the array of challenges confronting Australia.