TD Dialogue

'Transdisciplinarity in Fisheries & Ocean Sustainability'

TBTI Global Learning and Training Program


Since 2015, TBTI has been developing a transdisciplinary (TD) training program to help build capacity for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines, as well as for promoting viable and sustainable small-scale fisheries (SSF) more broadly. Starting in 2018, this program, titled ‘Transdisciplinarity in Fisheries & Ocean Sustainability’, has been offered both as an online training course or training workshops, either in-person or online.

The main objective of the TD training program is to engage participants in a critical examination of a range of issues, challenges and concerns related to fisheries and ocean sustainability, especially those affecting SSF. It also aims to deepen the understanding of the participants about the problems, issues and challenges facing SSF, affecting the overall fisheries and ocean sustainability, and to broaden the perspective for innovative and creative thinking about how to address them.

TD Handbook

In 2019, with the support of the FAO, TBTI started developing a teaching guide that captures the key elements of the TD training program. The TD Handbook summarizes the key tenets of TD, as well as the underlying principles, approaches and methods for participatory problem analysis. The main goal of the handbook is to serve as a guide to support capacity development training for the implementation of the SSF Guidelines and the SDGs. The TD Handbook can be used to compliment the online TD course or as a stand-alone guidebook to help practitioners, governments, and policy makers in their effort to implement the SSF Guidelines.

The handbook is a joint effort, developed by the TBTI TD course facilitators, guest lecturers, members of the TD research cluster, and with the contributions from those who took part in the TD online course or in the TD training workshops, either in-person or online.

The handbook has gone through several developmental stages and was evaluated on a number of occasions. In accordance with the TD principles, the development of the handbook will continue to be an interactive and iterative process for which there is no particular end date in mind. In other words, the TD Handbook is meant to be a ‘live document’, which will continue to be updated and revised in sync with the development of the TD philosophy and practice as well as with the present-day challenges and opportunities experienced by the SSF communities and those who work with them.

About the TD training program

The TD training program consists of a series of lectures on theories and main concepts, such as TD, wicked problems, stakeholders, governance and governability, followed by approaches, methods and frameworks to promote sustainability for fisheries and ocean. An important aspect of the training is the practical application of the theories and methods through case study analysis.

Since TD is mostly about process, training participants learn how to co-identify problems and co-design pathways towards solution, recognizing gender issues and power dynamics, as well as learn to communicate effectively with different stakeholders from various background. Participants work independently but also interact with other participants in small group discussions. Active engagement with the training materials is required.

TD online course: format & content

The course is structured into FOUR modules. Each module spans three weeks and comprises readings, lectures and exercises. In addition to the modules, the first week of the course and the last week of the course is for introduction and reflection, respectively. The course is designed for self-learning at own pace, but the participants will be guided to move through the course together. Thus, the materials for the course will be time-released, instead of being available all at once at the start of the course. The released materials will be available for the participants to review at any time.

Completion of the course is determined by the active engagement in the course (e.g. through comments and discussion of the class materials and interaction with other participants), and in the submission of exercises and assignments. A minimum of 75% completion is required for the participants to receive a “Certification of completion” from TBTI Global.

Week 1: Welcome & co-creation of the course syllabus

The first week is for the participants to become familiar with the TD Learning Platform, as well as to get to know each other. The TD process also starts here with participants providing inputs to help develop the course syllabus through the ‘Big Questions’ exercise.

Module 1: Wicked problems & governability

This module introduces participants to the concept of wicked problems in governance, and why the problems are even more wicked in the context of SSF. To learn how to address such wickedness, participants will be guided to examine small-scale fisheries in their diversity, complexity and dynamics, and the scale issues associated with their governance. The aim is also to gain appreciation about the challenges and tension in navigating between sustaining the resources and providing viable livelihoods, which are interconnected and multi-faceted, and there might not be trade-off or win-win solutions. In effect, there may be no general consensus as to what these challenges are, why they occur, and how to address them. Participants will be introduced to the interactive governance as a theoretical framework to examine features of aquatic, social, ecological, and political systems that may foster or limit overall governance quality – the governability of small-scale fisheries. Assessing governability requires detailed examinations of the systems-to-be-governed, the governing system, and the governing interactions. By engaging in exercises specifically based on such analyses, participants would be able to identify opportunities and limitations for improving governance.

Module 2: The fundamentals of TD

While it is recognized that multiple perspectives are required to address multi-faceted and complex problems, an integration of knowledge and sciences does not always happen. Progress has been made in advancing the knowledge and scientific integration through multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Why TD? Is it just another buzzword or it is an essential approach required for the kind of problems the world is facing today? In this module, we will discuss what TD is about and its value proposition. Is it true that a TD approach can help enhance understanding about fisheries and ocean and improve successful management and governance? A TD approach embraces complexity of SSF and governability challenges in achieving sustainability, including the diverse viewpoints and priorities of different stakeholders. This module aims to examine and integrate different theoretical perspectives often used to approach issues within SSF: 1) natural science, 2) social science, and 3) governance. Since TD is also a process, there will be a strong focus on approaches and tools to enhance interactions, communication, information sharing, and co-construction of knowledge.

Module 3: Unpacking governance & governing systems

The SSF Guidelines are the most comprehensive instruments designed to support and promote sustainable SSF. They contain key principles that speak to the nature and the characteristics of SSF. With human rights-based approach as foundation, the SSF Guidelines call on governments and related stakeholders to look at SSF issues along the entire fish chain, including those related to tenure rights, gender equality, involvement of fishers in management, social development, labour rights and capacity development. The challenge for all governments is about how to operationalize and implement the SSF Guidelines. In this module, we will examine the governance system, analyze the different types of institutions (formal and informal), and their functionality, identify principles currently employed and explore how to adjust the existing legal and policy frameworks so that they are in better alignment with the vision and principles in the SSF Guidelines. This is also an opportunity to think about how to situate and integrate SSF in the broader conversation about Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 14. After all, SSF are not only about life below water, but much to do with ‘Life Above Water.’

Module 4: Case study analysis

SSF face many threats and challenges, including climate change, globalization, competition from industrial fisheries, rapid market shifts, and coastal and ocean development, some of which are part of the Blue Growth/Blue Economy initiatives, that might result in displacement and further marginalization of SSF. The Covid-19 pandemic adds the stress and vulnerability to many SSF around the world, with the full consequences yet unknown. A case study approach can be used to help understand the specific context and the essence of what SSF are going through, and to enable innovative thinking around what needs to be done. In this module, participants will be invited to work in small groups to analyze different case studies affecting SSF in various parts of the world, and to come up with ways to bring ‘Blue Justice’ for SSF. This is also an opportunity to turn SSF from a problem to a solution!

Week 13: Wrapping up & reflection

We’re wrapping up the course with group and self-reflection about the TD journey. Here’s an opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas about how to build TD capacity and community of practice for viable SSF, sustainable fisheries and healthy ocean around the world.

Reports from the TD training program

Testimonials from the TD online course

Tahiry Randrianjafimanana
National Advisor for Fisheries and Marine Protected Areas, Madagascar

What a wonderful training experience, I learned so much and this training course will play an essential role in my career progression for the next decade – it provides tools and resources to improve my problem solving strategy. I felt more energized, informed, equipped and skilled by the time I completed the course. A truly professional programme that I would recommend to anyone working in the fishing sector.

Eric Zettermann Dias de Azevedo
PhD student in ecology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

I just finished the TBTI course on Transdisciplinarity for Fisheries & Ocean Sustainability and I am amazed. The lovely environment of the course connects you with people from all parts of the world. Discussing and learning about innovative tools and frameworks for small-scale fisheries was very important for me in the beginning of my career. It brought important issues (like blue justice and gender equality) and amazing tools (the SSF Guidelines and TD approach) to guide future research questions aligned with global sustainable principles. The teaching team was kind, dedicated and inspirational. The activities are based on actual cases and challenge you to apply theoretical concepts into practice. Group exercises connect you with new realities for enlightening discussions. It was a wonderful experience, I truly recommend it. Thank you TBTI for the opportunity and for the beautiful work.

Ana Paula Rainho
PhD student, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

The course has given me solid knowledge related to the fisheries and ocean sustainability. Knowledge that goes beyond a single discipline, because as I learned in the course, real life problems go beyond the disciplinary boundaries. Thus, the course teaches us what transdisciplinarity is and why it is so important for understanding fisheries systems. The course also provided an interesting experience of being in contact with people from different countries, with different realities ss well as a practical experience of debate and discussion about the problems from different perspectives of different professionals, characterizing a transdisciplinary experience.  It was a great learning experience, with a fantastic team and teachers that I always wished to have classes with. I highly recommend it.

Eurida Liyana
3rd year Student, B.Sc. (Hons), Department of Oceanography
Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh

The term ‘Transdisciplinarity’ in itself adds new insights to the same old conventional theories and ideas related to fisheries and oceans. I’d say that the TD-FOS takes the whole environment of an ‘online course’ a notch higher by actually meeting all the ends one might envisage.

The course exercises were an interesting way to cement the new concepts into my mindset. They were designed such remarkably that they actually got me into thinking and urged me to engage with the course materials. And not to mention, the group exercises allowed me to connect with people from different countries and get to know about the SSF issues in their countries.

What fascinated me the most about this course is that there were new teachers/instructors, new faces, in each module, and each of them shared their invaluable knowledge, experiences and researches to explain the relevant concepts.

I am glad to have participated in this course! I definitely recommend the TD-FOS course to anyone who is dedicated to working for SSF and SSF communities. Because taking the TD-FOS course is an amazing means to widening your knowledge base on SSF concepts and become more professional in tackling issues affecting SSF sustainability.

Alison Neilson
Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal

I strongly recommend this course for researchers and practitioners in any stage of their career. Learning about, or re-visiting and reflecting on what I knew (or thought I know) about working in fisheries in a transdisciplinary manner was very meaningful for me. The pandemic has kept me away from the islands and the people with whom I work, so it was great to have this virtual connection with fisheries folk from around the world.

This is an opportunity to discuss with people from a wide range of experiences our developing understandings and practices of governance, policy development and working together. The methods used in the course give opportunities to revisit our own ideas as well as listen closely to and learn from those of other people, especially from people with deep theoretical understandings of the scope of wicked problems and how theories and assumptions manifest in practice. I especially invite marine biologists and other natural scientists to take this opportunity to engage with social scientists to hone their abilities to work together.

If you are interested in participating in the TD online training program or our TD training workshops, please contact us at You can also contact us if you would like to host a TD workshop or would like TBTI to organize such workshop for you. 

TD archive