Transdisciplinary approaches challenge us to think about how to work together to build effective support structures to prevent and end homelessness. This blog will discuss how research and practice in homelessness services can be brought together.

What is a transdisciplinary approach? 

The term “transdisciplinarity” was first used in 1970 at an international conference of the OECD. It is a practice-oriented research approach that focuses on solving real-world problems by involving people from a variety of disciplines including (members of) the target groups. 

The OECD explains the concept by stating:

“In drawing on the breadth of science and non-scientific knowledge domains such as local and traditional knowledge, and cultural norms and values, it aims to supplement and transform scientific insights for the good of society. It crisscrosses the traditionally separated realms of science and practice and advances both simultaneously.” 

Transdisciplinarity is not limited to a specific group of individuals. The basic idea is that everyone who has something to say about a particular problem participates in gaining knowledge and deriving solutions. Participation and practical relevance are key components of the transdisciplinary approach. 

Challenges of the transdisciplinary approach

There are several challenges to successfully implementing a transdisciplinary approach and developing better answers to social questions.

Developing Trust: The key to collaboration is trust between the disciplines, institutions, and people who collaborate. It is also important to have soft skills such as empathy, open-mindedness, sensitivity and social competence for successful project collaboration. 
Adaptation skills: Change occurs during planning and project implementation in both monodisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects. To reduce the risks of these changes on complex processes it is important to address potential setbacks and solutions at an early stage. 

Composition: Careful consideration must be given as to when the greatest level of transparency is appropriate and when a smaller circle of project partners may be useful.

Context: Understanding the context surrounding the topic is very important for problem-solving when doing transdisciplinary work. 
Communication: Effective communication is essential to building trust among partners and when informing the public. 

Applying the transdisciplinary approach to homelessness research and practice

Homelessness is a complex issue. This becomes particularly clear when framing the problem at a societal level. It reveals the multi-layered, structural interrelationships that exist. For example, there are relationships between general economic development, social policy and housing policy, and the real estate and housing market. The interplay between these sectors changes the supply of housing and the risks, especially for low-income households, of experiencing homelessness. Individuals experiencing homelessness are often confronted with social exclusion and extreme material deprivation and are often at greater risk for health issues as well as legal issues. 

The involvement and cooperation of different sectors is necessary when considering the challenges individuals experiencing homelessness face. It is also necessary to involve policymakers who can provide concrete supports to people who are affected by homelessness. The participation of people with lived experience of homelessness is indispensable both for research and for the development of sustainable supports. One of the key challenges in all of this is how to bring them all together. 

One of the challenges the European Union faces preventing it from ending homelessness is the revolving door effect. People who have been helped in the short term end up experiencing homelessness again due to a lack of collaboration between different groups including support agencies and landlords. There are often gaps in legal regulations and political decisions because existing assistance is not considered in the overall context. 
For this reason, a transdisciplinary approach would be useful for addressing homelessness. This perspective offers a methodological process for approaching collaboration. Evaluation studies, such as this OECD study, provide expertise and ideas on how to collaborate. A more transdisciplinary-oriented approach to collaboration is a challenge but a chance to effectively prevent and address homelessness.