EME 810
Solar Resource Assessment and Economics

8.2 Transdisciplinary What?


You don't have to know everything...

...but you'd better have a transdisciplinary team to really be competitive in the solar market. In this lesson and the next three, we are going to explore content for which you are not necessarily expected to be the expert. But you do need to know about the important roles of your future partners in design, and the core communication topics relevant to engaging them in the integrative design process.

On your dream team for solar design, do you have a meteorologist, an economist skilled in energy business and finance, a systems engineer, a quantitative analyst to assess large data, a communications expert, and a practical electrician/roofer/plumber? Yes? Well, then you're way ahead of most everyone else. OK, does your team share a common framework: such as the goal of solar design? Do they understand and work to synthesize concepts across disciplines? Do they work together to address your problems?

This is just a quick review of the term "transdisciplinary." In exploring a spectrum of techniques for the last three content lessons, we are going further and further from "core" disciplinary topics. You know, we've been saying that this integrative design process is pretty important, and it involves a transdisciplinary approach. But what does that mean, and how is it practical to the core philosophy of a solar design team?

Levels of Integrative Design Teams 

  • (Level Three) Transdisciplinary: contributors are from different disciplines, working jointly to explore and apply a shared conceptual framework that synthesizes discipline-specific theories, concepts, and approaches. Transdisciplinary work extends methods and concepts to address common problems, often in transformative new ways.
  • (Level Two) Interdisciplinary: contributors work jointly, but still carry discipline-specific perspectives while working to address a common problem. Results tend to be reported as partial contributions in a discipline-by-discipline sequence, and each contribution of knowledge is partitioned from other relevant elements.
  • (Level One) Multidisciplinary: contributors are from different disciplines, working sequentially from their own discipline-specific perspectives. The goal is to combine results at the end of the project to address a common problem.
  • (Silos) Single Discipline: contributors work together within a single discipline to address a problem.

Patricia L. Rosenfield (1992) The potential of transdisciplinary research for sustaining and extending linkages between the health and social sciences, Social Science & Medicine, 35(11) 1343-1357. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0277-9536(92)90038-R

If we really want to see solar energy grow in new directions and adapt quickly to the diversity of challenges in society and the environment, then we need to get comfortable with "not knowing" everything, or even not knowing a lot. The patterns are generally just too big for a single person to be able to hold all of the core knowledge and be able to execute the design-build-operate process alone. We also need to get comfortable with building knowledge across disciplines, linked by a common conceptual framework. We need integrative design teams that "get" the value of transdisciplinary work.