The 'Discipline' in Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research

Dr Anitra Nelson,
Andrew Maher,
Professor Mark Burry
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The development of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research is not undisciplined but rather demands conscious and rigorous attention to developing appropriate research questions, approaches, methods, and theoretical frameworks. In 2005, researchers in the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL, RMIT University) initiated an innovative student-centred project to 'embed' PhD students in distinctive architectural firms with the aim of better understanding the factors that lead to change and innovation in architectural design practice, especially those associated with collaborative digital design.

This paper analyses the initial experiences of introducing social sciences methods to students who were very competent in the techniques of design and other architectural tasks but who were novices in terms of social sciences methods and theories. The induction process focused on applying to the university's ethics committee for approval to conduct ethnographic studies, such as interviews. This paper teases out a variety of challenges encountered by students, researchers and industry partners in establishing a pilot project for a proposed program to situate academic research within architecture as a living practice, business, industry and profession.

Keywords: Interdisciplinary, Transdisciplinary, Architectural Practice, Innovation and Change
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: 'Discipline' in Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research, The

Dr Anitra Nelson

Senior Research Fellow, Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (Architecture and Design),
and Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (Global Studies and Social Science and Planning),
Design and Social Context Portfolio, RMIT University

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Anitra Nelson's current research focuses on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in work practices and homes. She offers social science insights and support to researchers in the Spatial Information and Architecture Laboratory (RMIT University: on projects which investigate factors leading to change and innovation in architectural design practice, especially in collaborative digital design. Anitra is also the project manager and a principle investigator in the Suburban Communities project ( a large 3-year interdisciplinary project which is exploring the use of ICT in residential neighbourhoods and is funded by the Australasian CRC for Interaction Design (ACID). Anitra takes an action research approach tempered by critical reflection of a more general and theoretical variety. Her work in the Suburban Communities project focuses on the collaborative development of methods collectively referred to as 'future ethnography'. Her recent research background is in community-based sustainability and she is editing a book for the RMIT-NATSEM Centre of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute on policy-making for sustainable cities.

Andrew Maher

Research Fellow, Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL), RMIT University
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Professor Mark Burry

Professor of Innovation (Spatial Information Architecture) and Director of the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Ref: I06P0099