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Transdisciplinary Problem Solving

A guide to transdisciplinary problem solving resources available from the ANU Library

ANU Framework for Transdisciplinary Problem Solving

Key to operationalising this graduate attribute is the ANU framework for transdisciplinary problem solving, which highlights six characteristics: Change-oriented, Systemic, Context-based, Pluralistic, Interactive and Integrative, as shown in the graphic below and explained in the text that follows.

Design credit: The figure above was designed by Alice Wetherell from the Population Health Exchange (PHXchange) in the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.


The framework has six characteristics that are equivalent in importance, even though they differ markedly in breadth and content.


Transdisciplinary problem solving is used to improve understanding for improved action. This change-oriented approach requires effective decision-making, which uses diverse perspectives and is based on a shared vision and research evidence. It also works with the possibility of unknown factors that might lead to unintended consequences and nasty surprises. In addition, change orientation requires an awareness of the complexity of change processes, such as the different roles for social movements, 'nudges', and individual change.


Transdisciplinary problem solving is unnecessary for simple cause-and-effect-type problems, but is instead required for problems that are systemic, including where components are interdependent and interact, where feedback and leverage points come into play, where boundary-setting is crucial and where switching between views of wholes and parts is essential for understanding and action. Such systems may be, but are not necessarily, complex adaptive systems, which have additional properties, such as emergence.


The way problems emerge and take form, and options for addressing them, depend on historical, political, cultural and other big-picture circumstances.


Effectively understanding and addressing systemic and context-based problems requires recognition that there are multiple ways of seeing the world and that for any problem there will be different ways of understanding and responding to it.


Key to transdisciplinary problem solving is finding ways to engage a wide range of expertise and perspectives. This includes, but is not restricted to, teamwork and stakeholder engagement. The ability to communicate effectively is critical.


Developing a shared approach to defining and acting on the problem requires synthesis of the diverse perspectives, while also recognising that there will generally be outliers that cannot be comfortably integrated.

More detailed descriptions of each characteristic can be found in the introduction to each set of resources. In addition, the resources for some characteristics have been expanded into the following subcategories:

  • Change-oriented resources have been provided under the headings of ‘change,’ ‘decision making,’ ‘research implementation’ and ‘unknowns.’
  • Interactive resources have been provided under the headings of ‘teamwork,’ ‘stakeholder engagement’ and ‘communication.’

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