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

Sheona Shackleton*, Anna Taylor, Louise Gammage, Lindsey Gillson, Nadia Sitas, Nadine Methner, Shayan Barmand, Jessica Thorn, Alice McClure, Leigh Cobban, Astrid Jarre, Oghenekaro Nelson Odume

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2164798
Number of pages16
JournalEcosystems and People
Issue number1
Early online date22 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2023


  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Equity
  • Sustainability
  • Transformation
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Africa


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