Planning in modern urban environments requires skills to address complexity in order to move towards sustainability. Co-production of knowledge in transdisciplinary groups represents a useful tool in such contexts. Using the concepts of epistemic communities, linguistic diversity and culture, the article proposes a conceptual framework for analysing complexity of co-production settings, as an indispensable means of managing complex challenges, thus making these complexities
visible for the project leader (facilitator) and the participants of the co-production process. We evaluate the framework on the basis of inclusivity, cross-sectoral understanding, applicability in different contexts and time perspectives. Based on the framework, we identify several aspects that a process leader (facilitator) would need to address when preparing for a coproduction process: linguistic equality between participants, disciplinary integrity, a working culture of mutual respect, simultaneous mitigation and informed facilitation. Finally, the article suggests possible future research areas related to development of the framework, including (i) identification of levels of complexity and mapping specific tools to address complexity at each level; (ii) integration of other factors of complexity, such as political and institutional contexts, as
well as diversity of gender and age in the facilitated group perspective (Brouwer, Woodhill, Hemmati, Verhoosel, & van Vugt, 2016, p. 46). As the factors affecting sustainable urban development are too many to be managed simultaneously by one transdisciplinary process, framing the challenge and prioritizing key efforts is essential to the effectiveness with which the process is managed (Wuelser, Pohl, & Hirsch Hadorn, 2012, p. 82). However, being itself part of the complex adaptive system which it attempts to affect, the transdisciplinary process faces challenges of complexity as well.
The common denominator for the chosen concepts of epistemic communities, linguistic diversities and culture which constitute part of complexity in the given context, is their fundamental importance concerning boundaries of meaning (see for example Benveniste, 1971), communication (see for example Mills, 1997) and recognition (Honneth, 1992; see also Section 3.2). Ultimately, they concern mutual understanding in relation to diversity between stakeholders both on an individual level and between different collectives, but also between individuals within a larger group of collaborating collectives. Aiming for mutual understanding while preserving diversity is considered a prerequisite as well as a challenge for joint production of knowledge (Pohl et al., 2010). Epistemic communities, a diversity of languages, and culture, however, all comprise obstacles to mutual understanding, regardless of other conditions affecting participants in joint knowledge production (such as material inequalities and different schedules). Moreover, epistemic communities, language and culture are closely interrelated and affect one another constantly. Different thought styles through the interpretation and use of concepts exist even within the same language but are usually more pronounced between languages (Haas, 1992). In the context of multiple languages, participants in a transdisciplinary process are exposed to even more potential ambiguities and misunderstandings (Weber, 2018). Furthermore, epistemic communities and linguistic diversity are affected by the cultures of the particular organizational and working environments to which participants of transdisciplinary urban planning processes belong, as well as the combination of individual participants’ cultural background regardless of their employment (Somerville, 2005).