Transdisciplinary knowledge integration : cases from integrated assessment and vulnerability assessment

J. Hinkel

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Keywords: climate change, integrated assessment, knowledge integration, transdisciplinary research, vulnerability, vulnerability assessment.
This thesis explores how transdisciplinary knowledge integration can be facilitated in the context of integrated assessments and vulnerability assessments of climate change. Even though knowledge integration is fundamental in such transdisciplinary assessments, the actual process of integrating knowledge is rarely addressed explicitly and methodically. Here, knowledge integration is conceptualised into the subsequent phases of the elaboration of a shared language and the design of a methodology. Three devices for facilitating knowledge integration are put forward:
1. semantic ascent or the shift from speaking in a language to speaking in a meta-language about the former,
2. formalisation or the translation of statements made in ordinary or technical language into a formal language, and
3. knowledge integration methods, which are methods that provide a meta-language for speaking about the knowledge to be integrated and organise the process of integration.
Four cases of knowledge integration are presented. First, the general problem of methodology design is addressed and a graphical framework for representing methodologies is presented. Second, the problem of developing a shared language for speaking about vulnerability to climate change is addressed. A formal mathematical framework of vulnerability and related concepts is presented. Third, a special case of methodology design, the integration of computer models in the context of modular integrated assessment modelling is addressed. A modular approach developed in the PIAM project (Potsdam Integrated Assessment Modules) is presented. Fourth, the integration of computer models, this time in the context of a global assessment of coastal vulnerability to sea-level rise, is addressed. A knowledge integration method, which was developed and applied in the DINAS-COAST project (Dynamic and Interactive Assessment of National, Regional and Global Vulnerability of Coastal Zones to Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise), is presented.
These cases show that semantic ascent is a useful device in those cases in which it is difficult to directly elaborate a shared language at the beginning of the assessment. Formalisation can contribute to the elaboration of a shared language in those cases in which concepts overlap non trivially in their meanings. More emphasis should be placed on the development and application of iterative knowledge integration methods as iteration is crucial in order to benefit from the mutual learning during the course of the assessment.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Leemans, Rik, Promotor
  • Klein, R., Co-promotor, External person
  • Klein, R.J.T., Co-promotor, External person
Award date7 Mar 2008
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789085048251
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • knowledge
  • assessment
  • climatic change
  • theory of knowledge


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