Key terms and concepts

Last changed: 01 September 2022

Words and ideas shape understanding. At SLU Urban Futures the following terms and concepts are central to our work:

Future perspective

As one of SLU's four future platforms, SLU Urban Futures has the task of looking to and thinking about the future. Its overall mission is to address long-term challenges for sustainable urban development, both nationally and internationally.


Futurology is a science that seeks dialogue: What options can be imagined? What is possible, desirable or threatening? A futurology perspective is by definition long-term. By developing future scenarios and future reports futurology extends knowledge horizons and broadens the view. Its purpose is to point up alternatives and provide the basis for discussion and action, not to establish truths or predict the future. 


The term transdisciplinarity can be traced to the 1st international conference on interdisciplinarity, held in 1970. By the closing decades of the twentieth century a new connotation arose in the USA – ‘transdisciplinary science’ - denoting a form of ‘transcendent interdisciplinary research’ that fosters systematic theoretical frameworks for defining and analysing social, economic, political, environmental, and institutional factors in human health and well-being. A major catalyst for 21st century TD discourse,  evolved from European and North–South partnerships for sustainability,  distinguished by participation of a wide range of stakeholders. (Adapted from the 2008_Education Handbook for TD research by Julie Thompson Klein, member of the ITD Alliance Leadership Board).

SLU and the ITD Alliance

In 2020 SLU Urban Futures supported the creation of the Global Alliance for Inter and Transdisciplinarity (ITD Alliance) and made SLU a founding member. Being action-oriented, the ITD Alliance relies on an open definition of transdisciplinarity: “We adopt a context-driven approach while acknowledging a plurality of paradigms, experiences, ways of knowing, acting and being, values and methods. By focusing on boundary-crossing and boundary-spanning research, the ITD Alliance aims to advance capacity for collaborative research, interrelate or integrate diverse perspectives, and foster innovation, while building an international community to address significant societal needs.”

What do we mean by transdisciplinary research?

SLU Urban Futures defines multi- inter-, and transdisciplinary research as research that comprises theory, method or working approaches from more than one scientific discipline or research field. In multidisciplinary research different theories, methods or approaches are used side by side; in interdisciplinary research they are, at least to some extent, integrated. Transdisciplinary research is distinguished in its recognition and inclusion of other types of knowledge than scientific knowledge, such as practice and experience-based knowledge and knowhow.

Sustainable development

Defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987), sustainable development has emerged as the guiding principle for long-term global development. Consisting of three pillars, sustainable development seeks to achieve, in a balanced manner, economic development, social development and environmental protection. (Source: United Nations)