Transdisciplinary approaches in sustainability science address complex real-world problems by combining scientific and societal bodies of knowledge in heterogeneous project teams. However, having more actors with diverse disciplinary and professional backgrounds in one team can make communication and integration more difficult. One major challenge is to set up a shared problem understanding to find solutions towards a sustainability transformation. Here design comes into play. Design is perceived as a discipline that transforms the existing into desirable states and thus becomes transformative. Design creates co-produced artefacts representing coded knowledge; their tangibility provides an alternative to text and spoken words and they level hierarchies, power, and rhetorical abilities. The presented work studies the integrative functions of design artefacts and shows how they can be used as a method within transformative processes to set up a shared problem understanding and communicative base for knowledge co-production and transfer.

The proposed approach based on participatory design methods extends the methodological framework for integration and participatory collaboration within transformative processes by bridging different communicative skills, knowledge cultures, languages and methodological backgrounds. It consequently facilitates epistemic, communicative, and social-organizational integration among the involved academic and societal actors and practitioners. This actively contributes to solution-oriented, socially robust knowledge, as needed in sustainability sciences. The presented PhD project is situated within the project “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation” at Leuphana University Lüneburg, the empirical research is pursued in two transdisciplinary real-world case studies in Transylvania/Romania and Lower Saxony/Germany.

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