‘Transformative research’ (TR) is currently a hot topic in science and technology policy. There are twenty different programs in US science and technology funding agencies alone designed to encourage TR. But some take issue with the term. Is it a meaningless buzzword? Is it really possible for policy makers to develop policies that support TR? As one of the co-organizers of a recent National Science Foundation-funded workshop on the subject, I want to explore one of the suggestions made by participants: that interdisciplinarity is necessary for TR.
How we answer the question of the relation between interdisciplinarity and TR depends on how we understand each of the phenomena in question. To attempt an answer, I first outline some possible conceptions of ‘transformative research’. I then discuss different conceptions of ‘interdisciplinarity’, which I approach in terms of different ideas regarding interdisciplinary communication. Based on these analyses, I suggest several options for science and technology funding agency officials about how to develop a policy to support TR.