Design Thinking for Transdisciplinary Research (PHD603)

Course description for study year 2024-2025. Please note that changes may occur.


Course code




Credits (ECTS)


Semester tution start

Spring, Autumn

Number of semesters


Exam semester

Spring, Autumn

Language of instruction



Design thinking for transdisciplinary research is an elective course which can be included as part of the candidate’s PhD programme. It responds to the recent rise to prominence of design thinking and methodology as a transdisciplinary means to address organisational and societal change. The course explores how this versatile toolbox can be harnessed to address complex societal challenges. These include climate change, demographic shifts, natural resource management and social welfare. The course is based on and seeks to impart and operationalise advanced knowledge in the field of design thinking as a transdisciplinary process and mindset for defining complex problems and solutions. This is an important understanding that can help candidates situate their doctoral project theme within wider trends during societal transitions. Furthermore, reflexive engagement with design thinking can help deepen understanding of its relations to broader conditions and roles of knowledge production and engagement with society in both critical and creative ways.

Design thinking for transdisciplinary research strengthens the understanding of purposes, connections, benefits, limitations, effects, and results of design thinking. It thus facilitates divergent and convergent thinking through the utilisation of the double diamond (a process based on the activities of discovering, defining, developing, and delivering). The course utilises a set of methodologies that illustrate the dynamic nature of analysis and sense-making, a vital skill in doctoral education.

Developed by the British Design Council, the double diamond enables transdisciplinary research as defined by the Harvard School of Public Health ( "…research efforts conducted by investigators from different disciplines working jointly to create new conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and translational innovations that integrate and move beyond discipline-specific approaches to address a common problem." Beyond the double diamond as a general framework, more advanced and specific design thinking and methodologies offer a broad toolkit of approaches to address complex tasks. With increased recognition of and appetite for the added value of quadruple helical approaches and transdisciplinary cooperation where social scientists can contribute knowledge and analytical skills, equipping candidates with tools to enable lateral thinking is key to increasing work-life relevance.

With this underlying rationale, the course aims:

  • to facilitate the development of a curious and creative mindset and integrative thinking skills
  • to problematise and exemplify transdisciplinary research through interdisciplinary engagement and transdisciplinary interaction using social science methods
  • to encourage critically informed and relevant research questions and innovation; and
  • to identify relevant methods and data and instantiate application through specified tasks.

The target group is PhD candidates with backgrounds in (or closely related to) the social sciences, with a desire to further enhance their abilities to define and co-create transdisciplinary research problems and solutions. The course draws on these candidates’ own abilities and engagement with design thinking through a curated, customised process, to involve them as resources for each other within the course ontology and delivery, as reflected in the mix of individual and group exercises. Critical reflection, including on design thinking as an approach, is a cornerstone of the PhD course.

Learning outcome


After completing this course, the candidate should

  • be able to assess the appropriateness and application of design thinking in support of transdisciplinary research and professional development projects, with point of departure in their own PhD project and disciplinary concepts
  • be able to contribute to the development of new knowledge, new theories, methods, interpretations, and forms of documentation within the subject area and beyond
  • be able to engage with and critique texts on design thinking based on interdisciplinary collaboration across the social sciences, displaying methodological advance during the course


After completing this course, the candidate should

  • be able to formulate issues for, plan and carry out research and professional development work through social interaction across the social sciences in relation to their own discipline
  • be able to analyse complex professional issues and challenge established assumptions, knowledge, and practice in the subject area by drawing on design methods and techniques
  • be able to creatively utilise and synthesise design methods in a research and practice setting with individual reflection and collective collaborative exercises based on task specifications

General competence

After completing this course, the candidate should

  • be able to contribute to complex transdisciplinary work tasks and projects together with others with a grounding in basic design thinking methods adapted to their field of interest
  • be able to assess the need for, take the initiative towards, and drive innovation in a holistic manner based on articulate justification of an approach matched to a defined need
  • be able to define and co-create research problems and solutions in a transdisciplinary setting, combining analytical skills with concrete application

Required prerequisite knowledge

Participants must be enrolled in a PhD programme.

Recommended prerequisites

Completed Master degree programme in the social sciences (or closely related fields based on documentation of adequate justification)


Group work and indivdual essays

Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Group work 1/2 Passed / Not Passed
Indivdual essays 1/2 Passed / Not Passed

Mock grant application text and 5-minute bid pitch as well as submission of group review of a chosen set of mandatory and recommended course texts (50%; group work); and individual reflective essays of 1,500 words each both pre- and post-course set to different templates (50%). Both elements will be marked as Pass/Fail.

Coursework requirements

Corresponding to the methods of work above, each candidate will allocate the following time towards these mandatory course activities and deliverables for credits:

  • 37 hours - pre-course time allocation for mandatory readings (1,095 pages)
  • 20 hours - pre-course preparation of 1,500 word description of own PhD project using a template adapted to the double diamong and design thinking
  • 37 hours - participation in week-long course (5 full working days)
  • 25 hours - group work to write a 3,000 word joint review essay engaging with 6-8 of the mandatory and recommended course texts due two weeks after the course
  • 25 hours - post-course submission of a critically reflective 1,500 word essay on the concept of design thinking based on the course literature in relation to own PhD project, due one month after course conclusion to earn the credits.

Conditions for completing the course: Candidates must attend and actively contribute to the course gathering in order to complete the course. This includes the 1,500 word pre-course submission and related 1,500 word post-course submission due one month after the course. It also includes a 3,000 word group review of a recommended reading, due two weeks after course conclusion. During week-long in-person participation, the candidate is expected to engage actively in classroom and group activities, including a bid pitch in a small team, a hands-on group exercise based on a praxis-informed case study, and preliminary work on developing a group review.

Course teacher(s)

Course teacher:

Siddharth Sareen

Course coordinator:

Rune Todnem By

Method of work

The course is delivered over a 5-day gathering (a full work week), and consists of the five following elements (with accompanying candidate activities) including lead-in and follow-up tasks:

  1. Strengthening the understanding of purposes, connections, benefits, limitations, effects, and results of design thinking in a research setting

    1. This is accomplished by writing a 1,500 word description of own PhD project in a template provided in advance of the course, to frame it in terms of design thinking
    2. This is complemented by mandatory pre-course reading that enables the candidate to access new information and concepts for individual application to their interests
  2. Faculty- and guest lecturer-led presentations of cases illustrating the application of design thinking based on praxis, followed by practical student group exercises for a hands-on feel.
  3. Based on the utilization of the double diamond process, candidates will in teams write the introduction/scoping text of a grant application to a funding agency (not specifically linked to any individual thesis theme). This text is to inform a 5-minute bid pitch per team.
  4. Group review. Candidates will select 6-8 mandatory and recommended readings per team in order to compose a joint 3,000 word review of these course texts, for which time is allocated during the course as well as directly after the course, with the essay due two weeks after course conclusion.
  5. Individual reflection. Based on the course experience, candidates will revise their initial 1,500 word essay using a second template where they engage critically with the double diamond and design thinking, to show how they implement learning imbibed through the exercise on bid pitch development and reflect upon its relevance for their own PhD project.

Open for

The course is open to registered PhD candidates at University of Stavanger, Norwegian, ECIU, and other universities.

Course assessment

There must be an early dialogue between the course supervisor, the student union representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital subject evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.


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