Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Collaborative Transdisciplinary Research in a Small Institution: Challenges and Opportunities

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Collaborative Transdisciplinary Research in a Small Institution: Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt


Health disparities problems involve multiple factors that should be analyzed and evaluated from theoretical frameworks and research models that allow a broad view of these complex phenomena. Transdisciplinary (TD) research offers this opportunity through the integration of different disciplines for the creation of a common conceptual framework to tackle a problem (Rosenfield, 1992). Using a TD approach, investigators from different scientific disciplines, expertise and cultures interact to co-produce knowledge (Abrahams, 2006). Meanwhile, Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach that begins with a research topic of importance to the community and combines knowledge with action, in order to achieve social change to improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities (W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Health Scholars Program, 2001). Therefore "TD, community-based, interactive, or participatory research approaches are often suggested as appropriate means to meet both the requirements posed by real-world problems as well as the goals of sustainability" (Lang et. al, 2012).

The implementation of both TD and CBPR approaches requires a continuous capacity building effort. ESSENCE on Health Research (2014) defines research capacity building as any attempt to increase the ability of individuals and institutions to undertake high-quality research and to engage with the wider community of stakeholders. Most examples of the development and implementation of TD and CBPR initiatives come from large-scale programs led by research-intensive institutions or centers with multiple resources to establish collaborations among experts from different disciplines (Cooper et. al. 2013; Emmons, Viswanath & Colditz, 2008; Stokols, Hall, Taylor & Moser, 2008). However less is known about the process of establishing TD and CBPR initiatives in small academic settings. Therefore, in this paper we outline how a TD and a CBPR research initiative was conceptualized, developed, implemented, and sustained at a small academic institution with limited research infrastructure.


Universidad del Este (UNE) is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) located in Puerto Rico, whose primary focus is teaching. However, in 2001 a research component was incorporated in UNE's mission and included as a priority in the institutional strategic development plan, initially as a way to enhance science education and provide research experiences to undergraduate students. The transition to a teaching-research institution required the implementation of holistic and sustainable strategies that could have a university-wide impact. Therefore, based on the definition of TD research, our institution embraced the use of this approach as a strategy to maximize the use of academic and financial resources.

The aims of UNE's TD Research Efforts were to:

1. Strengthen UNE's research infrastructure.

2. Promote TD research endeavors among its faculty, students and academic units.

3. Develop CBPR initiatives that focus on health disparities affecting in UNE's surrounding communities.

To accomplish these aims, research capacity building was considered a priority to develop the necessary infrastructure to conduct research in health disparities using TD and CBPR approaches.


In 2008, our university was awarded a Research Infrastructure for Minority Institutions (RIMI) grant from the National Institutes of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to enhance research capacity in health disparity areas (P20MD003355). The overall goal of the NIMHD-RIMI grant was to enhance UNE's research capacity in health disparity research at the basic science, preventive health, sociobehavioral, and educational level, as well as to increase student pursuit of advanced studies in these areas. …

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