In the webinar „Keep rol(l)ing! Developing Theories of Change in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts“ that took place on July 12, 2022, the tdAcademy team at ZTG (Martina Schäfer, Josefa Kny & Emilia Nagy) and Sabine Hoffmann (eawag) presented the results of their collaborative working process. The ZTG had the pleasure to welcome Sabine Hoffmann as a fellow in May 2022 and had stimulating discussions with her about the Theory of Change as a method, its functions and the roles that ‘leaders’ of ToC processes may assume.

The webinar has attracted 40 participants from various academic levels, countries and disciplines who took part in the joint reflection and discussion.

The background of the webinar was the remarkable interest for ToC in inter- and transdisciplinary contexts within recent years and the different guidelines and approaches that were developed, which can make it difficult for inter- and transdisciplinary researchers to select and apply suitable ToC approaches as well as define and reflect their own roles in ToC processes.

What is the Theory of Change?

In the first part of the webinar Josefa Kny and Martina Schäfer (both ZTG) from the tdAcademy team give an introduction in the ToC thinking, present a spectrum of functions ToCs may fulfill as well as the diverse roles ‘leaders’ of ToC processes may incorporate. Afterwards the participants were invited to ask questions and comment the received input.

Three applications of ToC

The second part of the webinar builds on different ToC approaches based on examples from three applications of ToCs in connection with the roles they may fullfill, the opportunities they might offer and challenges they might provide in different practical contexts.

Sabine Hoffmann starts with giving insights on the publication in which she was involved as an author of „Integrate the integrators! A call for establishing academic careers for integration experts“ which was a basis for the discussion during her fellowship at ZTG and defines the roles that she and other scientists take who lead ToC processes. Furthermore, she elaborates on the roles of the continuous ToC process she leads in the program Wings at eawag which deals with water and sanitation innovations for non-grid solutions. She also reflects the opportunities and challenges the application may provide.  

Then, Josefa Kny talks about the development and application of ToC and the assumed roles as external facilitators who motivate participants of transdisciplinary projects to reflect on societal effects in the context of tdAcademy at ZTG. She also elaborates the opportunities and challenges the application can provide in this context of a recurrent and external workshop-based application of ToC.  

Similarly, Emilia Nagy gives insights into her experiences with developing and applying ToC in the project WIR at ZTG which deals with impact-oriented, formative evaluation of transdisciplinary research projects.

The aim of the webinar was to elaborate on the opportunities and challenges connected to the  roles researchers who apply ToC with different functions may assume and provide inter- and transdisciplinary researchers with a framework to consciously choose and reflect their own roles (and the roles of others) in ToC processes. The webinar concluded with an exchange of the participants in small groups as well as a stimulating discussion in the plenary. We would like to thank everyone who attended for their participation and inspiring input.


Belcher, B. M., Davel, R. and Claus, R. (2020) 'A refined method for theory-based evaluation of the societal impacts of research', MethodsX, 7, pp. 100788.

Deutsch, L.; Belcher, B.; Claus, R.; Hoffmann, S. (2021) Leading inter- and transdisciplinary research: Lessons from applying theories of change to a strategic research program, Environmental Science & Policy, 120, 29-41

Belcher, B. and Halliwell, J. (2021) 'Conceptualizing the elements of research impact: towards semantic standards', Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8(1).

Hoffmann, S., Deutsch, L., Klein, J.T. et al. Integrate the integrators! A call for establishing academic careers for integration experts. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 9, 147 (2022).


Following the webinar, the Josefa Kny, Emilia Nagy, Martina Schäfer and Sabine Hoffmann wrote a blog post that was published on i2insights in February 2023.


JosefaSummerSchool   Dr. Josefa Kny

is a researcher at the Center for Technology and Society at Technische Universität Berlin in the project tdAcademy. Her focus is on methods and societal effects of transdis-ciplinary research. She has a PhD from the Norbert Elias Center for Transformation Design and Research, European University of Flensburg. She also works for the foundation FUTURZWEI, which tells stories about social-ecological change projects, and founded the “Club of Good Future”, an exchange forum for transformation professionals. Josefa studied Future Studies (MA) and Political Science (BA) in Berlin and Stockholm. (More about Josefa)

MartinaSummerSchool   Prof. Dr. Dr. Martina Schäfer

is a biologist (University Stuttgart-Hohenheim), Dr. in Environmental Technology and Dr. in Sociology (TU Berlin). Since 2010, she is the Scientific Director of the Center for Technology and Society (ZTG) of TU Berlin. Since 1996, she has coordinated in the ZTG inter- and transdisciplinary research projects, in Sustainable Regional Development, Sustain-able Consumption, Sustainable Land Use and methods of inter- and transdisciplinary cooperation. (More about Martina

Emilia   Emilia Nagy 

has been a research associate at the Center for Technology and Society since 2015. There, she is currently working in the projects "InnoStrat - further development of the innovation strategy of the alliance region 4.0" and "PaDiSo - participation in the digitalized energy system through social innovation". Her research interests lie in the development of methods and concepts of transdisciplinary research, knowledge integration and sustainability in human-nature- and human-technology-interaction. (More about Emilia)

Sabine Hoffmann   Dr. Sabine Hoffmann 

is Group Leader for Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research at Eawag, the water research institute of the ETH Domain in Switzerland. She leads the strategic research program Wings "Water and sanitation innovations for non-grid solutions" and conducts research on issues of inter- and transdisciplinary integration in large-scale research projects and programs. She combines her experience and knowledge in the field of inter- and transdisciplinary research in her current work on "integration experts" on an empirical and conceptual level. (More about Sabine)