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What Is an Interdisciplinary Perspective?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An interdisciplinary perspective is a way of looking at a concept, task or data set. It analyzes, harmonizes and synthesizes links between two or more disciplines, such as dance and medicine, for a better, cohesive whole. With this type of approach, it sometimes is easier to think outside the box, see ramifications or enlist aid for a project.

Unlike a unidisciplinary approach, an interdisciplinary perspective requires knowledge in more than one area. It also is different from a multidisciplinary perspective, which uses data from more than one area but which segments a project into distinct parts based on the disciplines associated with those parts. When using an interdisciplinary perspective, all individuals involved work together. Although some individuals may be experts in one area of the project, all workers are supposed to have a basic understanding of all the disciplines the project incorporates. Thus, an interdisciplinary perspective is a wider or more well-rounded view.

People have multiple goals when they opt for an interdisciplinary perspective. First, they want to advance understanding and eliminate confusion. By looking at a task, data set or concept through the lenses of more than one discipline, people reveal how a project might apply in various settings. The perspective allows individuals to see the "butterfly effect" of what they do; this refers to a concept in which the seemingly innocuous flapping of the wings of a butterfly creates major problems or benefits down the road. This has long-reaching ramifications not only for industrial productions, but also for social interaction and advancement.

Secondly, individuals working under an interdisciplinary approach want to make projects efficient. For example, if a team was working on building a bridge, thinking about the construction under an environmental lens could thwart negative attention or publicity from environmental activists. It also sometimes eliminates the need to go back to the drawing board for additional testing or permissions later on.

Even economics ties into an interdisciplinary way of working. For instance, when looking at a grant or loan proposal, lenders typically want to see that the applicant has thought through the project as thoroughly as possible. Applicants can use an interdisciplinary approach to think about how to present the project and show they've covered their research bases. The more thorough an applicant is, the more likely the lender is to approve the project proposal.

Lastly, an interdisciplinary approach sometimes helps an individual or team to be more creative. Looking at something according to more than one discipline can assist an individual in seeing more solutions than if only one discipline's information were present. This doesn't necessarily mean an interdisciplinary solution will be better than a unidisciplinary one, but it does give an individual or team more options from which to choose.

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Discussion Comments

By anon924947 — On Jan 08, 2014

It's so important to have a variety of people from different backgrounds on a work team. People from different backgrounds look at things differently and can help create new ideas. They can also find new ways to solve problems. --Ron J.

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