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 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 small-scale fisheries. It also aims to deepen the understanding of the participants about the problems, issues and challenges facing small-scale fisheries, 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 small-scale fisheries communities and those who work with them.

Book: Transdisciplinarity for Small-Scale Fisheries Governance – Analysis and Practice

This book argues that policies targeting small-scale fisheries need to be based on a solid and holistic knowledge foundation, and support the building of governance capacity at local, national, and global levels. The book provides rich illustrations from around the world of why such knowledge production needs to be transdisciplinary, drawing from multiple disciplinary perspectives and the knowledge that small-scale fisheries actors have, in order to identify problems and explore innovative solutions.


The volume was developed through the TBTI ‘Transdisciplinary Fisheries’ cluster and includes contributions from 70 authors across from multiple backgrounds, disciplines, and geographic regions.

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.

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 small-scale fisheries 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 small-scale fisheries: 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 small-scale fisheries. They contain key principles that speak to the nature and the characteristics of small-scale fisheries. With human rights-based approach as foundation, the SSF Guidelines call on governments and related stakeholders to look at small-scale fisheries 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, small-scale fisheries are not only about life below water, but much to do with ‘Life Above Water.’

Module 4: Case study analysis

Small-scale fisheries 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 small-scale fisheries. The Covid-19 pandemic adds the stress and vulnerability to many small-scale fisheries 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 small-scale fisheries 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 small-scale fisheries in various parts of the world, and to come up with ways to bring ‘Blue Justice’ for small-scale fisheries. This is also an opportunity to turn small-scale fisheries from a problem to a solution!

Reports from the TD training program