General approaches for integrating knowledge

Bringing together ideas and concepts from different sources.

Effectively bringing knowledge from different sources together, and on an equal footing is a perennial challenge when you are doing integrated research projects. There are several different approaches you can take, and it is useful to discuss and decide how you plan to do it with the team beforehand.

It is also important to discuss during the research project to check that people are happy with how their knowledges are being brought together. Sometime research can be considered a bit extractive, or subsuming of other knowledges.

Gabriele Bammer in her Integration and Implementation Science framework (Bammer 2013), presents different methods for integrating knowledge from different sources:


Dialogue-based methods use conversation and discussion to ‘jointly create meaning and shared understanding’. For example when you have a discussion with your research team about what results mean, you are using informal dialogue methods.


Model-based integration uses a model (e.g. conceptual, systems or numeric) as the device for bringing together different sources of knowledge. Through designing together, the model captures the shared understanding.

An example of a conceptual model is building a problem tree together. The description of the root causes and consequences of a problem are developed from bringing together all the knowledges in the room. However, some models require quantitative data while some knowledges are predominantly qualitative. Care is needed to give adequate weight when qualitative knowledge is being modelled alongside quantitative as the latter may dominate the model design. An example is incorporation of matauranga Maori alongside biophysical knowledge in decisions on land use planning.

Product / Vision-based

Product and vision-based integration are similar in that a common focus brings different understandings together, either a product that people are working on, or a vision that people are working towards realising. An example of product-based integration in Manaaki Whenua would be S-map, bringing together soil science, GIS, Informatics, etc. An example of vision-based integration would be the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge – bringing together the disciplines, knowledge and people needed to deliver on their mission.

A helpful technique in product or vision-based integration, where you typically have people working on different aspects of the problem separately, is the 'Give and take matrix' to get clarity about who is contributing what to whom.

Common metric-based

Common metric-based methods rely on a single measure used to encapsulate the range of knowledge about a topic. The most widely used common metric is monetary value. If different things can be ‘converted’ into a monetary value then synthesis can then be based on arithmetic or methods such as cost-benefit. Ecosystem services is another example of a common metric-based integration.

More information

Bammer, G. (2013). Disciplining interdisciplinarity: Integration and implementation sciences for researching complex real-world problems, ANU E Press.

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