The Nexus Network has been the first in a series of linked investments from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK supporting a community of researchers and stakeholders to tackle nexus interdependencies, trade-offs and decision-making processes. Since its launch in June 2014, the Nexus Network has worked to support transdisciplinary research at the food-water-energy-environment nexus, and to create meaningful links between communities of researchers, policymakers, business leaders and practitioners.
Coordinated by teams from the University of Sussex, University of Sheffield, University of Exeter, University of East Anglia and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, during its lifespan, the network has:
- hosted and facilitated numerous events, providing spaces for engagement and discussion about nexus challenges
- developed insights into tools and methodologies for nexus thinking and practice
- supported nexus-related research through a flexible small grants programme and fellowship scheme
- worked with businesses and policymakers to support them to address nexus interdependencies, opportunities and impacts
- built capacity in the UK research system for future investments in nexus-related economic environmental and sustainability research
- provided strategic advice to ESRC, RCUK and other funding bodies.
Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary
It is increasingly recognised that narrow single disciplinary approaches are ill-equipped to address complex, interconnected challenges. There are various approaches to the involvement of multiple disciplines within research:
- A multidisciplinary approach draws upon the strengths or expertise of different disciplines, and more effectively joins up their findings, but leaves disciplinary boundaries (and sometimes hierarchies) intact.
- An interdisciplinary approach involves the fuller integration of disciplines, to develop potentially novel ways of approaching research questions, recognising that there is a diversity of ways to understand and address particular problems.
- Transdisciplinary research not only integrates expertise from across academic disciplines, but also involves societal stakeholders in the design stage, and throughout the research process. In transdisciplinary research, knowledge can come from beyond formal academic disciplines, and insights are often provided through other kinds of tacit knowledge – as held by local communities, businesses, social movements or practitioners.
Nexus Network activities and projects have included all three of these types of cross-disciplinary collaboration, with
a particular emphasis on transdisciplinary processes.