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Transdisciplinary Research at KNOTS Summer School, Tam Dao, Vietnam

 

Written by Mukda Pratheepwatanawong

Researcher of Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University

 

Introduction

The Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies (KNOTS) Summer School at Tam Dao, Vietnam, had identified various research issues and potential research projects to approach many development challenges in Southeast Asian countries; of which are related to climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest, and ecotourism. Transdisciplinary Studies, require a significant amount of time, funding, and necessary skills to approach, develop and conduct research in the context of researcher’s interest. Being away from the busy urban areas of Vietnam, the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao provided intense lectures to diverse group of participants on developmental issues in Southeast Asia countries. Being co-funded by Erasmus+ Program - European Union, professors from different universities in Europe, Thailand, and Vietnam - that are doing transdisciplinary research, took this opportunity to contribute their findings, clarified various key issues on transdisciplinary research and transferred their knowledge to the next generation of researchers. This essay attempts to provide an overview of transdisciplinary research and a personal reflection on the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao.

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Overview of Transdisciplinary Research

To begin with, researchers who are interested or considered using transdisciplinary method for their research can start by thinking and planning their research with the following three questions: 1. Why do you want to do the research? 2. What do you want to know in the research?  3. What do you want to know about the research?  I left out the word “exactly” in these questions because transdisciplinary research is an exploratory approach. Often, researchers would start off by having a very broad knowledge and understanding about the topic and the context of the study. Therefore, this part of transdisciplinary research would involve more of thinking and brainstorming process, in order to diverge research ideas and questions to explore possible connection between them. (These questions were developed through group works with other Thais and Vietnamese participants in the summer school, under the supervision / facilitation of Professor Michael Kleinod)

The thinking and brainstorming process starts with the question on “Why do you want to do the research?”. This part serves as the establishment of the study and the reason for such establishment might be due to existing or previous research projects did not work out well, did not identify the core issues or did not solve the intended problems. Therefore, transdisciplinary research can be used as a comprehensive approach to explore the area that the researcher is interested in. For example, if a target location is a non-tourist place and villagers there are living at poverty level, the researcher should gather more information and data about the place and its standard of living, before suggesting the place to attract tourism. If converting into a tourism place is what the researcher aims for, then the researcher should further consider about alternative options such as ecotourism or cultural tourism for the local community.

With regards to the question on “What do you want to know in the research?”, this question goes one step deeper to identify the fundamental information regarding stakeholders, cultures, and existing problems within the context of the study. For example, come back to the case of ecotourism, the researcher might want to have discussions with different people in the local community to find out their opinions on converting the target location into ecotourism. In addition, it would be interesting to find out people’s opinion on ecotourism and their understanding about it. Besides, it is important to understand the social structure and the social relationship within in the local community.

Lastly, based on the question of “How to do the research?”, this part involves more of a Social Science research methodology; which considers different ways in which data can be collected. And this process depends on what type of information the researcher wants to know and who can the researcher gets the information from. To get information and opinion on development issues such as climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest and ecotourism from villagers, the researcher can consider adopting various data collection methods such as informal interviews and conversation, focus group interview, in-depth interview, survey, discussion group, documentation research and ethnography; depends on the context and types of people providing the information. It is important that researchers think about research ethics while collecting data.

Similar to other types of research, transdisciplinary research does not strictly follow step-by-step procedure. Therefore, the integration of each step might occur to gather information and develop the research. What is important about transdisciplinary research is to relate the information of each step to each other. And this comes with the consideration of time and money required to do the research

After being introduced and instructed on transdisciplinary research, it would be worth considering to adopt it for a PhD research, where students usually have sufficient amount of time, funding, and access to the target community. If the transdisciplinary approach and the PhD project succeed, the research will be original in contributing new knowledge to the existing literature review. However, having years to do a project can make PhD candidate become isolated and detach from their PhD process. Data collection and field work are as fundamental as contextualization and literature review of the thesis. But whether to use transdisciplinary research for a PhD project or not, one should definitely discuss with their supervisor or researchers who had used it before.

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Reflection on KNOTS Summer School at Tam Dao

Although Tam Dao is far from the city center in Northern Vietnam, there were many things happening in the district. Apart from the international summer school that I was involved in, many local restaurants offer Karaoke as part of the entertainment and dinner in Tam Dao. There is a Chinese temple that my friends and I visited, which involved climbing up the mountain, and was exciting after being fed with Pho, Bun Cha and G7 coffee and other delicious Vietnamese food throughout the summer school. The summer school gave me the opportunity to appreciate and experience the local cultures of the district, the everyday life of the local community that I was in, which is an important start for someone who is interested to know more about Vietnam.

Coordinating and organizing a summer school can be possible but not every summer school can be successful. I would like to say here that the Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies Summer School at Tam Dao, was possible as well as successful as it involved efficient organization and cooperation from different universities, constantly working with one another to develop the projects, make decisions and solve problems that project face. The organizer and funder were thoughtful and sincere to let students and professors from different universities to collaborate and participate in this project. I heard that the next summer school for this project will be hosted by Chiang Mai University, and the summer school and the field trip will be somewhere in the Northern region of Thailand, which is a perfect place for summer school and field trip. The weather in Northern region of Thailand is cooler than in Bangkok and that region will allow participants to experience the local life of Thais of diverse background and ethnic groups. If the next summer school theme lies around transdisciplinary research, I will definitely recommend the summer school to postgraduate students, particularly those at the beginning of their PhD student or intend to do a PhD in the Social Science field, intending to explore into the topic that they are going to do for their research.

Although completing my PhD had enabled me to understand the standard required to contribute new research into my research field, I was still keen to learn about transdisciplinary research for my future research, which is becoming an important type of research to deal with deal in Social Science field. The summer school had provided a diverse identification of contemporary development and changes in Southeast Asian and provided me with many opportunities to share my research experience other postgraduate students and professors, enabling me to expand my research networking, which is beneficial for future research and funding purpose.