A Co-evolutionary, Transdisciplinary Approach to Innovation in Complex Contexts: Improving University Well-Being, a Case Study

Elsevier BV
Publication Type:
Journal Article
She Ji, 2021, 7, (4), pp. 565-588
Issue Date:
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Complex societal challenges cannot be resolved with quick fixes, nor can they be successfully addressed from disciplinary or institutional silos. In this article we propose an innovative approach to tackling contemporary societal challenges based on complexity theory and transdisciplinarity. The lens of complexity reveals that such challenges emerge within complex contexts. Complex challenges cannot simply be resolved, due to their dynamic, non-linear nature. Instead, the complex context itself can be steered in a certain desired direction through iterative action and learning cycles. Transdisciplinary approaches help us understand how different perspectives and ways of knowing held by relevant actors can be combined to serve effective action in complex contexts. We have integrated complexity theory and transdisciplinarity to create a co-evolutionary model of innovation illustrating that who we work with, how we work, and what we learn and create co-evolve over time. We show how an innovation approach based on building a vision and including a reflexive social learning method can provide a guiding structure to this co-evolutionary process. We illustrate this approach with a case study focused on improving the well-being of staff and students at a university. We conclude the paper with implications for design.
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