Epistemic stability and epistemic adaptability: interdisciplinary knowledge integration competencies for complex sustainability issues

A. Horn*, E. Urias, M. B.M. Zweekhorst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Global sustainability challenges transcend disciplines and, therefore, demand interdisciplinary approaches that are characterized by cross-disciplinary collaboration and integration across disciplines. In accordance with this need for interdisciplinary approaches, sustainability professionals have been reported to require interdisciplinary competencies. Although the necessity of interdisciplinary competencies is generally agreed upon, and there has been extensive research to understand competencies for interdisciplinarity, there is still no comprehensive understanding of how individual competencies shape the ability to integrate knowledge across disciplines. Therefore, based on empirical research and literature review, we propose a novel framework to understand competencies for interdisciplinarity. The empirical data were collected through written reflection and interviews with 19 students in the context of an interdisciplinary master’s course. We describe four typical behaviours—naïve, assertive, accommodating, and integrative. Based on these behavioural typologies, we define two sets of competencies that collaborators require to engage in interdisciplinary knowledge integration: Epistemic Stability (ES) and Epistemic Adaptability (EA). ES competencies are the competencies to contribute one’s own academic knowledge, such as theoretical and methodological grounding in one’s own field and confidence, and EA competencies are the competencies to engage with academic knowledge contributed by others, such as curiosity, openness and communicative skills. Our findings show that interdisciplinary knowledge integration requires ES and EA competencies. Our framework for interdisciplinary competencies offers insights for revising and designing more interventions to prepare (future) professionals for interdisciplinary work on sustainability issues, providing insights on criteria for assessment, management, and training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1959-1976
Number of pages18
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number5
Early online date3 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO) [project number 405.18865.703].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Competencies
  • Education for sustainability
  • Epistemic cultures
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Knowledge integration


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