The development of active lifestyles is a pivotal goal in health promotion. However, promoting active lifestyles in different population groups and creating a sustainable impact in real-world settings represents a major challenge. Transdisciplinarity in public health has great potential to overcome the “science-practice-gap” in bringing together scientific and practical evidence to find effective and sustainable answers to societal problems like physical inactivity within the population. Focusing on practical and theoretical tools to enhance health promotion strategies, about 25 researchers met in the middle of July in the city of Erlangen to learn about and to discuss transdisciplinary methods with leading experts in this field.
The Summer School was organized by the Young Researcher Network of the Capitel4Health research consortium – a consortium aimed to research and improve capabilities for active lifestyles among different population groups. Held in a pleasant atmosphere at Haus der Kirche, Erlangen over the course of four days, the different sessions offered comprehensive theoretical backgrounds and constructive discussions using interactive methods like case studies and small group workshops.
The objectives of the Summer School were to gain competencies and expertise in:
- Interactive knowledge-to-action approaches (IK2A) to involve actors from different areas and draw attention to context and to interactive processes of knowledge generation.
- Transdisciplinary methods to blur the boundaries between research, policy and public health practice.
- The use of the capability approach as a framework to strike balance between individual competences and structural capacities for active lifestyles.
- Providing gender-sensitive health promotion measures to take account of gender-specific differences in health behavior.
- Social Network Analysis to understand connections between participants in transdisciplinary projects.
After a warm welcome from the organizational committee and some time to get to know each other, Prof. Dr. Alfred Rütten gave an advanced introduction into the concepts of transdisciplinarity and interactive knowledge-to-action. He clearly demonstrated the process from transfer of knowledge to co-production of knowledge in the past years and gave insights into European projects using interactive knowledge-to-action approaches. In the final discussion the participants stressed the challenges, but also – and even more important – the opportunities of these approaches. At the end of the first day, the Summer School participants presented several transdisciplinary projects they are currently involved in to foster mutual discussions and to introduce each other in their different research perspectives.
On Wednesday, Prof. Dr. Matthias Bergmann held a workshop on Transdisciplinarity – Concepts and Integrative Methods for Participatory Research. The participants got a detailed introduction into the concept of Transdisciplinarity followed by an input about core characteristics, methods and integration steps of participatory transdisciplinary research. The combination of theory and practical examples from projects was a key element in Matthias Bergmann’s workshop. Furthermore, the aim was to apply the gained knowledge into the participants own projects that created a real hands-on learning atmosphere. The researchers worked in groups on “problem framing” and on “group model building” to identify key challenges within the reflexive research process.
In the evening, the participants had dinner at Entlas Keller, a traditional Franconian brewery in Erlangen, to foster networking. The latter is paramount both for transdisciplinary research in particular and for young researchers in general. Combined with a guided tour to the old beer cellars, the evening ended with traditional food and local beer in a warm summer night and with lots of reflections about the day.
On Thursday morning, the focus of the Summer School was on the concept of capabilities. Prof. Dr. Thomas Abel, Dr. Anna Münch and Prof. Dr. Holger Hassel explained the difference between capabilities (What can people actually do?) and functionings (What do people actually do?) to the participants. They pointed out that (un)healthy behavior is not only dependent on the individual decision and competence, but also on the structural conditions under which people live and work. The capability approach is a relatively recent and innovative approach in the field of public health, resulting in many constructive discussions of its role in the current transdisciplinary projects of the researchers.
In the afternoon, Dr. Ingeborg Jahn suggested implications for gender-sensitive research in health promotion. Researchers should always be aware of their own role and the meaning of male and female stereotypes for participation rates in health promotion offers. Furthermore, she made a link to the capabilities approach, showing how capabilities of people can also depend on educational processes across the lifespan.
In the concluding discussion about future directions, the participants reflected about the approaches learned so far and the possible impact on their future research.
The day ended with a relaxing Yoga session in a park nearby the venue.
On the last day, Dr. Hagen Wäsche gave a brief introduction into network analysis and its possible role for an improved understanding of working groups within health promotion projects. While explaining key terms as well as the background and theoretical basis of network analysis, he also introduced a software tool designed for sophisticated and scientifically sound network analysis. One of his central topics was the differentiation between various levels of an analysis. From a network perspective, there can be the individual level, a dyade, a triade as well as subgroups and the network as a whole. Dr. Wäsche clearly showed that so called knots and relationships between actors in a network are of particular interest and he provided the audience with case studies to illustrate how the network analysis works.
The organizers would like to thank all the participants for their active engagement during the sessions and the insights into their projects and work. Furthermore, we are deeply grateful to our invited lecturers for their contributions and in particular we want to thank Prof. Dr. Alfred Rütten and the research Network Capital4Health for making the Summer School possible. We hope to set a mark by starting a new tradition and that we’ll be able to organize more such events and workshops.