The final interdisciplinary skill is Integration. This is the process of combining subject-based inputs into a new cohesive and singular output. The broad aim is to create an outcome that is novel and goes beyond the separate contributions. A ‘good’ integrated outcome should:
- be difficult or impossible to identify one subject’s contribution
- contain appropriate levels of expert content from both subjects.
Finding it difficult to identify the subject content is what separates an interdisciplinary outcome from a multidisciplinary one. It may still be easy to identify some subject content, but for the best interdisciplinary outcomes, neither content could stand alone well. Nor would the final outcome make sense without all its parts. Integration, and therefore interdisciplinary outcomes, exists on a continuum from barely cohesive to ground-breaking. Degrees of integration are not inherently better or worse, as long as they meet the needs of the shared goal.
Containing expert content from each subject is what makes interdisciplinarity ‘disciplinary’. For example, an individual may read about a subject outside their own expertise and integrate this into an outcome, but this would lack the important depth of knowledge, practice, and insight that collaborating with an expert in that subject would provide (Morrison 2014). This is why learning to be interdisciplinary means learning to collaborate.
Integration is also the source of the slightly inaccurate mantra that interdisciplinary outcomes are ‘greater than the sum of the parts’. This is misleading though, because it masks the need for students to develop and apply real skill at integration, which is itself an important phase.