Education the field of interdisciplinary research has

Education systems and academic practices often teach us
that knowledge can be segregated into distinct disciplines, defined by specialised
areas of expertise. However, more recently the field of interdisciplinary
research has gained traction and challenged this assumption. People are
starting to realise that compartmentalising knowledge in this way may not
provide the most accurate representation of the world. This essay will outline
what might be gained from taking an interdisciplinary approach, as opposed to a
unidisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach, to behaviour change in the
context of replacing short car journeys with cycling.

 

Before assessing what can be gained from taking an
interdisciplinary approach to this problem, it is important to consider the
possible enablers of and barriers to replacing short car journeys with cycling,
as well as the potential impacts and outcomes of this behaviour change.

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Promoting cycling as a healthy and environmentally sustainable alternative to
driving has received increasing interest from policymakers in recent years
(Goodman, 2013). Other motives for encouraging this behaviour change include
the reduction of traffic congestion, street noise and road traffic accidents
(Woodcock & Aldred, 2008; Rabl & de Nazelle, 2012). Furthermore, changing
this behaviour has other potential outcomes that are not so well reported, such
as economic implications, impacts on crime rates, public well-being and
community dynamics (Rabl & de Nazelle, 2012). There are also many different
reasons why people may be motivated or reluctant to replace short car journeys
with cycling. Recent data from Transport for London (TfL, 2016) revealed that motivations
for cycling include keeping fit, saving money, enjoyment and convenience. On
the other hand, concerns about safety, bike theft, poor cycling infrastructure
and low confidence in cycling were all specified as deterrents to cycling. It
is therefore evident that replacing short car journeys with cycling is a
complex and multifaceted problem.

 

Consequently, the expertise of multiple disciplines is
needed to successfully understand and address the various factors that need to
be considered. For example, town planners and engineers are needed to tackle
the lack of cycling facilities and infrastructure, economists are needed to assess
the cost implications of these changes, politicians and sociologist will be
required to address concerns over the acceptance of new cycling infrastructure and
the possible reduction of infrastructure that supports car driving,
psychologists are needed to understand safety fears and scientists are required
to outline the health and environmental implications of replacing short car
journeys with cycling. Given the required involvement of multiple disciplines, a
unidisciplinary approach is patently unsuitable as the problem cannot be solved
by the expertise and skills of a single discipline alone. Furthermore, taking a
unidisciplinary approach can often be regarded as biased as it only considers
the issue from the perspective of a single discipline and thus tends to provide
a partial view of the issue, ignoring the knowledge, assumptions and theories
of other disciplines (Pieters & Baumgartner, 2002). For example, an
engineer’s solution may be to replace certain roads with cycle lanes. However,
if they were to do so without considering the economic, social and political
implications it could result in severe economic costs or backlash from the
local community. Overall, it is evident that an approach involving multiple
disciplines is needed to successfully and unbiasedly change this behaviour.

 

Furthermore, research shows that approaches encompassing
multiple disciplines tend to be considered more valuable and beneficial in many
fields of work including, health research (Slatin, Galizzi, Melillo, Mawn,
& Phase in Healthcare Research Team, 2004), health care services (Nicholson, Artz, Armitage, & Fagan, 2000) and health
management (Katon et al., 1995). Approaches which include multiple disciplines
can also increase the learning and development of those involved as well as
minimising unnecessary costs and resources, reducing errors and improving work
quality (e.g. Risser et al., 1999; Shortell et al., 1994). Therefore, much can
be gained from involving multiple disciplines instead of taking a unidisciplinary
approach. However, the way in which the multiple disciplines work together can
vary; two potential approaches are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.

 

A multidisciplinary approach aggregates knowledge from
different disciplines but makes no attempt to integrate the insights, instead,
each discipline stays within their own boundaries (National Academy of
Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, & Institute of Medicine, 2005).

Therefore, when taking this approach, the disciplines each make a separate
contribution and only perceive the topic from their point of view. As Joe Moran
(2010) explains, “the relationship between the disciplines is merely one of
proximity”, “there is no real integration between them” (p. 14). In contrast, an interdisciplinary approach integrates and
synthesises the perspectives, insights, theories and methodologies from
relevant disciplines into a coherent whole (National Academy of Sciences,
National Academy of Engineering, & Institute of Medicine, 2005). The
process of integration is an important distinction between the approaches;
multidisciplinarity can be seen as an additive process, whilst
interdisciplinarity is more integrative.

 

Taking a multidisciplinary approach to this problem would
draw knowledge from the relevant disciplines but each discipline would stay
within their own boundaries. For example, the psychologist may examine how
perceptions of fear can be reduced, town planners and engineers may assess
where more cycle lanes could be built and economists may develop a financial
model to assess the implications of building new infrastructure. However, there
would be no integration or synthesis of ideas and methodologies and each discipline
would reach its own conclusion, based only on their own knowledge. An
interdisciplinary approach, on the other hand, would synthesis all these
perspectives and establish a common goal to facilitate a more comprehensive and
innovative solution the problem. For example, psychologists, engineers and
economists could work together to develop new cycle lane systems that are both
cost-effective and built to heighten perceived user safety. To achieve this, engineers
may use methodologies that are more common within the field of psychology to
measure fear perception, ensuring that the new cycle lanes make users feel as
safe as possible.

 

Not only is the issue of replacing short car journeys
with cycling multifaceted, it also functions as a system in that all aspects
interact with each other. Thus, solving one aspect of this complex problem may
uncover or generate challenges in other areas. It is, therefore, crucial to
adopt an interdisciplinary approach to understand how the different facets
interact. By merging the relevant insights from each discipline, interdisciplinarity
can provide a complete picture of the system, rather than just the individual
cogs. Multidisciplinarity, on the other hand, is not adequate for complex
issues such as this as it assumes the facets work in silos, operating independently
from each other with no interaction. A multidisciplinary approach would
therefore not appreciate that an economist’s solution, such as increasing taxes
on driving, would have societal impacts such as a disparity in those that can
and cannot afford to drive. Thus, the knowledge, perspectives and
methodologists from sociologists and economists would need to be integrated
through an interdisciplinary approach to assess whether increasing taxes on
driving is a feasible solution and, if so, what measures may need to be taken
to reduce the chance of inequity.

 

Another benefit of an interdisciplinary approach is that
analysing the problem from the perspective of each relevant discipline allows
for the similarities and differences between disciplines to be appreciated
(Baloche, Hynes, and Berger 1996). This process, known as ‘perspective taking’,
allows stakeholders to think outside the constraints of their discipline and
consider the broader context of the issue by looking at it from a perspective
they may have not previously considered. Thus, it can help identify aspects of
the problem that may not have otherwise be obvious and subsequently advance
knowledge whilst developing new ideas and possible solutions. Perspective
taking can also help overcome preconceived beliefs and biases by making the
stakeholders aware that they may be biased in the view of their own discipline
(Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Subsequently, unlike
multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity also reduces the chance of
false-consensus bias, which is the tendency to overestimate the extent to which
our values and ideas are similar to other people’s (Ross, Greene, House, 1977).

For example, engineers may have preconceived beliefs that structural measures,
such as barriers, are the solution to overcome concerns of safety.

Psychologists, however, may view these concerns as problems of “subjective
safety” which is the perception, rather than reality, that roads are
unsafe. If a multidisciplinary approach is taken, these competing ideas would
result in two very different and only partial solutions. However, by taking an
interdisciplinary approach and integrating these different perspectives and
methodologies for measuring “safety” a complete picture and all-encompassing
solution can be achieved.

 

This leads on to another benefit gained from taking an
interdisciplinary approach; the facilitation of creative solutions. As
disciplines become more specialised, their focus of interest become narrower.

This contraction can ultimately constrain the types of questions each
discipline asks and the methodologies they use.  Unlike
multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity enables disciplines to break out of
this narrow-mindedness by providing alternative perspectives on the problem and
making the stakeholders more open to diverse methods, concepts and theories. Hence,
this approach fosters creative thinking, allowing disciplines to think outside
the box and subsequently develop more innovative solutions that are often required to tackle complex challenges such as getting
people to replace short car journeys with cycling. For example, engineers and
the police may work together to develop innovative bicycle storage facilities aimed
at reducing theft; a solution that may not have been explored if both
disciplines stayed within their boundaries.

 

Another benefit of interdisciplinarity is the
establishment of a common language. As insights and perspectives are
synthesised, there needs to be agreement on key definitions and ways of
measuring behaviour and outcomes. Environmental scientists, for example, may
measure driving and cycling behaviour by mean daily distance, whereas health
scientists may measure the same behaviour in terms of calories burnt. Thus, if
a multidisciplinary approach is taken, with the disciplines each working within
their own boundaries, this conflict in metrics will be problematic when
discussing and comparing potential ideas and solutions. Interdisciplinarity, on
the other hand, requires a consensus on terminology and metrics. This consensus
is extremely important to help break down the barriers between disciplines,
ensuring everyone is working towards the same goal and has a common
understanding of the issue which will provide strong, evidence-based solutions
to the problem (Ogilvie et
al., 2011). A common understanding of the issue
and consensus on terminology also means that any materials and solutions which
are developed are more likely to resonate with all the relevant disciplines.

This is extremely valuable at the implementation stage, as it is essential for all
stakeholders to have a comprehensive understanding of what is required. In
comparison, a multidisciplinary approach can result in confusion over
terminology and diverse understandings of the problem. Subsequently, the
solutions and materials produced will be more appealing and comprehensible to a
wider audience if an interdisciplinary approach is taken.

 

In conclusion, replacing short car journeys with cycling
is a complex, multifaceted behaviour change problem which requires the
expertise, insights and methodologies of multiple disciplines. Furthermore, as
the problem functions as a system, an interdisciplinary approach is needed to
integrate the perspectives of relevant disciplines and provide a complete
picture of how all aspects interact to develop an optimal solution. Taking an
interdisciplinary approach can also encourage creative thinking, innovative
solutions, a common understanding of the issue and consensus on terminology
which are all unlikely to be achieved by adopting a unidisciplinary or multidisciplinary
approach. Real life challenges tend to be complex and so compartmentalising
knowledge and methodology into distinct disciplines is an inaccurate
representation of how the world works. Integration across disciplines is needed
to fully understand our ever-progressing world and to develop optimal solutions
to the complex and multifaceted challenges we face. It is, therefore, no
surprise that interdisciplinarity is becoming more widely used to tackle
societal challenges and has facilitated important advancements in knowledge and
technological innovation (Klein, 2009). Proponents of the approach are also
urging for education systems to move away from discipline-specific study towards
more interdisciplinary forms of education (e.g. Jones, 2010; Nissani, 1997). Whilst further research is needed to establish best
working practices and applications of interdisciplinarity, to ensure it is
applied in its most effective manner, this approach continues to help us make
sense of and tackle ‘real-world’ problems in a way that unidisciplinary and
multidisciplinary approaches cannot.