Interdisciplinary collaboration

Climate change, cyber security, the ageing population: our society faces a number of major challenges that require more knowledge and groundbreaking innovations. The Knowledge and Innovation Covenant (KIC) 2020-2023 focusses on these societal challenges by means of mission-driven research. An integral approach is needed to tackle these challenges, in which researchers from the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences work together and coherently approach a problem from the perspective of their different disciplines. Successful innovations will only come about if technological and social innovation go hand in hand.
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Mission-driven calls KIC

NWO has made interdisciplinary research a priority within the programming of the KIC 2020-2023 in order to make an optimum contribution to integral knowledge for complex societal issues. In concrete terms, this means that from this year onwards (2020) researchers will be encouraged to submit interdisciplinary project proposals. From 2021 onwards, interdisciplinary collaboration will be a condition for research proposals within the mission-driven calls of the KIC, with the exception of calls that emerge from the KIA Key technologies. Interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged within the other main lines of the KIC, but it is not a condition.

How do we interpret interdisciplinary collaboration within the KIC?

Interdisciplinary collaboration within the KIC 2020-2023 refers to research in which knowledge and expertise from different academic disciplines are integrated from the outset to jointly solve problems and explain phenomena for which the knowledge from a single discipline is not enough. Within the KIC, it concerns a collaboration between the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. The call for proposals contains clear information about this interdisciplinary collaboration and about the information to be provided in the project proposals.

The associated principles are:

  • Integrated

    The research integrates at least two of the three research domains (humanities, natural sciences, social sciences) and always includes the natural sciences. We understand the natural sciences to include the engineering sciences, physical and natural sciences and medical and health sciences. Researchers from each domain may take the initiative to collaborate. Furthermore, it is important that research from the humanities and social sciences is carried out by researchers from those research domains and therefore not by researchers from the natural sciences.

  • From the outset

    For the integrated approach, the formulation of the research question is always interdisciplinary. Therefore interdisciplinary collaboration takes place from the outset. Only then can interdisciplinary research questions arise. Monodisciplinary research can be carried out within the interdisciplinary collaboration as long as the results from that research are subsequently integrated and lead to interdisciplinary conclusions. That requires careful management of the research.

    Contributions from the humanities and social sciences concern the broad palette of disciplines within these domains. Therefore contributions from many disciplines are possible, such as linguistics, communication sciences, ethics, law, economics, business administration, psychology, media research, etc.

  • Innovative

    The collaboration must be innovative and have added value for all of the researchers involved. It is therefore not a question of including a legal provision or ethical precondition (such as privacy) at the end of a study. Researchers from the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences must be able to conduct research based on their own expertise and in so doing contribute to innovative issues. There is no single ideal approach or method for interdisciplinary cooperation. The content of the research is leading in this respect. Researchers choose the approach that best fits their research.

  • Examples

    Several inspiring examples of integrated (interdisciplinary) research questions are given below:

    • What does the technological development of self-driving cars mean for the city, its inhabitants and mobility in the Netherlands?
    • How can innovations for remote care (telecare) be produced in such a way that patients have good reason to trust this form of care? What do patients think is important in this regard?
    • How can the water safety objectives that are increasingly coming under pressure due to climate change be sustainably combined with economic and ecological development?
    • How can blockchain applications be designed and implemented in such a way that they are transparent from a legal and societal perspective, and citizens can trust them?
    • How can transitions (for example, the increasing role of data and data analysis, new forms of energy, urbanisation, circularity) be aligned with each other so that infrastructures and their management are futureproof?
    • How can technological innovation in the construction sector be accelerated by intervening in collaboration in the design phase of circular construction projects, and in so doing making a contribution to behavioural change?
    • From a technical, market, legal and spatial perspective; what is the feasibility of new methods for transporting electricity and/or hydrogen from the Dutch North Sea to the land?

Introduction in two phases

The introduction of interdisciplinary collaboration in new calls of the KIC 2020-2023 will be realised in two phases.

First phase (2020):

The first phase concerns calls in 2020. These contain a short substantive research agenda, which is attractive for interdisciplinary research (not a condition yet).

Second phase (from 2021 onwards):

The second phase concerns calls from 2021 onwards. In this phase, intensive workshops will be organised between researchers from the different research domains and representatives from the parties involved in the knowledge and innovation agendas (KIAs) to formulate interdisciplinary questions for the specific subject of the call and, on the basis of these questions, to draw up a research agenda. From then onwards, interdisciplinary collaboration is a condition in the main line MISSION (with the exception of the key technologies).

(Matchmaking) meetings

In the period prior to the deadline for submitting (pre-)proposals, NWO will facilitate (virtual) matchmaking activities for the calls. In the KIC 2020-2023, the aim of matchmaking is to bring together and connect researchers from different disciplines (humanities, natural sciences, social sciences) with organisations from the field so that interdisciplinary research proposals can be realised. NWO will communicate information about the planning of the matchmaking activities via its website and newsletter.

Assessment of interdisciplinary proposals

For interdisciplinary research, it is vital that the referees and selection committee members are carefully selected and instructed. NWO aims to organise this as well as possible. Various approaches will be explored for this including the working method of the selection committees.

FAQ

  • Why has NWO decided to adopt interdisciplinary collaboration in the KIC?

    The energy transition, dementia and water management: these are just a few of the major challenges our society faces and that require more knowledge and groundbreaking innovations. To make an optimal contribution to integral knowledge for complex societal issues, NWO is paying explicit attention to the societal and social context of (technological) innovations in the programming of the KIC 2020-2023. With a view to this, NWO is encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration in which researchers from the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences approach an issue from the perspective of their own disciplines. If technological and social innovation go hand in hand, then the chances of innovations being successful are increased.

  • What is the definition of interdisciplinary collaboration in the Knowledge and Innovation contract (KIC)?

    Within the KIC, interdisciplinary collaboration is research in which knowledge and expertise from different research disciplines are integrated to jointly solve problems and explain phenomena for which the knowledge from a single discipline is not enough. Within the KIC, it concerns a collaboration between the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. At least two of the three research domains are integrated, always including the natural sciences. The natural sciences include the engineering sciences, the physical and natural sciences as well as the medical and health sciences.

  • For which instruments in the KIC is interdisciplinary collaboration (from 2021 onwards) a condition?

    In 2020, researchers will be encouraged to submit interdisciplinary project proposals, but this will not be a condition. From 2021 onwards, interdisciplinary collaboration will be a condition for research proposals within the mission-driven calls of the KIC, with the exception of calls emerging from the KIA Key Enabling Technologies. In the other main lines of the KIC (the main lines QUESTION, PARTNER and PRACTICE) NWO invites researchers to participate in interdisciplinary collaboration, but this is not a condition.

    Mission-driven calls KIC 

  • When does the second phase, in which NWO will make interdisciplinary collaboration within the KIC compulsory, start?

    The second phase concerns calls published from 2021 onwards. In this phase, workshops will be organised between researchers from the different research domains and representatives from the KIA workgroups (made up of representatives from the top sectors, companies and government ministries involved in the mission concerned) to formulate interdisciplinary questions for the specific subject of the call and, on the basis of these questions, to draw up a research agenda. From then onwards, interdisciplinary collaboration is a condition in the calls from Main Line 1 MISSION, with the exception of calls emerging from the KIA Key Enabling Technologies.

  • Where can I read more (in external sources) about interdisciplinary collaboration and how to give shape to that in practice?

  • How can the Impact Plan approach for knowledge utilisation support interdisciplinary collaboration?

    Via the Impact Plan approach for knowledge utilisation, a research project programme is set up in such a way that from the development of the research idea onwards, the foundations are laid for a promising collaboration between stakeholders and researchers before, during and after a project. Within the KIC, this collaboration is aimed at developing solutions for major societal challenges and, in so doing, creating economic opportunities. Deploying the Impact Plan approach makes it clear which research is necessary and who needs to be involved to create impact.

    The Impact Plan approach explicitly identifies which collaboration between science domains is necessary to realise the desired solutions, and makes the coherency between the societal challenges, possible solutions and the route towards application and implementation (impact) visible.

    Information about the Impact Plan approach can be found in the Knowledge utilisation leaflet from NWO.

    Knowledge utilisation leaflet from NWO

  • Will the interdisciplinary approach cause individual disciplines to disappear or blur?

    The underlying disciplines will not disappear as a result of the interdisciplinary approach. On the contrary, they must be well maintained to ensure sound disciplinary starting points for this collaboration.

  • Which disciplines fall under the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences?

  • Which researchers can take the initiative to realise interdisciplinary collaboration?

    Researchers from each of the research domains (humanities, natural sciences, social sciences) can initiate a collaboration.

  • Does a collaboration between researchers from the humanities and social sciences (for example, an economist and a philosopher) satisfy the criteria that NWO poses for interdisciplinary collaboration from 2021 onwards?

    The research integrates at least two of the three research domains (humanities, natural sciences, social sciences), always including the natural sciences. The possible options are therefore: natural sciences and humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, and natural sciences, humanities and social sciences. A collaboration between researchers from the humanities and social sciences only does not satisfy the criteria.

  • Is collaboration within a single research domain (natural sciences) also possible?

    Collaboration within a single research domain (for example, in the natural sciences a collaboration between researchers from computer sciences and physics) does not satisfy the criteria that NWO sets for interdisciplinary collaboration in the MISSION calls published from 2021 onwards. Collaboration within a single research domain remains possible with the Main Line MISSION for the calls for the KIA Key Enabling Technologies and in the other Main Lines of the KIC (QUESTION, STRATEGY and PRACTICE).

  • Why must the natural sciences always be involved in the interdisciplinary collaboration within the KIC and why is a collaboration between just the humanities and social sciences not permitted?

    This is due to the history of the KIC, which was started in 2012 as a business policy with a focus on technological innovation and natural sciences research. Furthermore, the substantive focus of the KIC is aimed at the development of innovations (products or services) for societal challenges, such as climate change, cyber security and the ageing population. The contribution of the natural sciences is important for these innovations.

  • How do I know what researchers from the humanities and social sciences can contribute to the KIC research?

    A document with questions that serve as a source of inspiration has been compiled, which clarifies how the humanities and social sciences can contribute to the missions of the KIC. This provides examples of research questions and is not an exhaustive overview.

    KIC Inspiring questions Social Sciences and Humanities

  • Where can I find other researchers and networks with whom I can realise an interdisciplinary collaboration?

    The list given below provides a starting point to find researchers and public and private partners within specific themes. In particular, the (informal) contacts made at congresses and debate evenings often prove to be particularly valuable. Grant advisers and/or knowledge (and technology) transfer offices within your own knowledge institution(s) often have access to a large network. For each call within the main research line MISSION, NWO will also organise a matchmaking meeting to facilitate creating a network with other researchers and public and private partners.

  • May the research from the humanities and social sciences also be realised by researchers in the natural sciences or by consultants?

    The research in the humanities and social sciences is always carried out by researchers from the humanities and social sciences. If a researcher (demonstrated, for example, by relevant research output) is both a natural sciences researcher as well as humanities or social sciences researcher, then he or she can carry out the humanities or social sciences research. Consultants may not carry out research in the KIC.

  • If a social sciences or humanities researcher works in a natural sciences faculty then which research domain will he or she fall under?

    A researcher’s research domain is determined on the basis of the domain that he/she works in (demonstrable with relevant research output, for example) and not the faculty he/she is employed at.

  • To which disciplines do contributions from researchers employed at universities of applied sciences belong?

    For researchers from universities of applied sciences – where the orientation is sometimes more thematic than disciplinary – the disciplinary background of the researcher concerned is assumed. That is often apparent from the lectorate, faculty or expertise centre that these researchers are employed at.

  • What is the minimum number of researchers we must have from each research domain?

    No criteria have been set for this, other than a minimum of one researcher from two of the three research domains, but always including the natural sciences.

  • Does collaboration with a company or civil society partner also fall within the definition of interdisciplinary collaboration?

    The interdisciplinary collaboration within the KIC concerns a collaboration between researchers. If the contribution from a company or civil society organisation consists of providing a researcher who actually conducts research in the context of the project, then this person will also fall under the interdisciplinary collaboration.

  • The interdisciplinary collaboration must be innovative. What does that mean?

    The collaboration must be challenging and innovative for all of the researchers involved; researchers from the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences carry out research based on their own expertise. It is therefore not a question of, for example, including a legal provision or ethical precondition (such as privacy) at the end of a study, but research into a problem that cannot be solved with existing knowledge.

  • Is there a specific approach or method for interdisciplinary collaboration?

    Researchers choose the approach that best fits their research ( for example, quantitative or qualitative research, research in a practical setting (living lab) etc.). The content of the research is leading in this respect.

    Interdisciplinary collaboration involves using a variety of methods. Examples are the Responsible Innovation (MVI) approach or the related Value Sensitive Design approach. Once again researchers choose the approach that best suits their research.

  • How is interdisciplinary collaboration assessed in the research proposals?

    For the research proposals submitted in the context of the calls published in 2020, interdisciplinary collaboration is not a condition. For research proposals submitted in 2021, interdisciplinary collaboration is assessed in the light of the proposed contribution of the research to the solution of the innovation question and the societal challenge – as described in the call concerned.

    The criteria against which proposals are assessed are stated in the call. During the evaluation of the quality of the consortium, the (inter)disciplinary composition of the research team will also be examined. During the evaluation of the quality of the research, the interdisciplinary aspects of the proposed research plan are one of the criteria that will be assessed. For both sub-aspects, it will be examined whether the proposed degree of (inter)disciplinarity matches the contribution that the intended project aims to provide.

  • By whom will a research proposal be assessed (in the context of a MISSION call)?

    A selection committee will assess the preproposals. As is usually the case at NWO, all full proposals will be submitted to (inter)national referees. These are experts in the field that the research proposal covers. Subsequently, the selection committee will rank the proposals and submit a granting recommendation to the NWO Executive Board based on the reports from these referees and the applicants’ rebuttal that in the KIC often leads to an interview.

  • How will the referees and members of the selection committee be selected?

    The selection committee consists of experts from scientific disciplines that are relevant for the call. The selection committee can also include representatives from non-scientific parties (such as companies or societal organisations). The referees are chosen per research proposal.

    Members of the selection committee and the referees are partly selected based on their affinity with interdisciplinary research. The instructions they receive clearly describe the interdisciplinary approach within the KIC.