Can interdisciplinarity and synergy be measured?

Professor Loet Leydesdorff discussed a new methodology for measuring interdisciplinarity and synergy and its application in this Debate in Public Policy.

Interdisciplinarity is regularly discussed as a solution to developing and creating new knowledge, but discussion on what we mean by interdisciplinarity is quite limited. On Wednesday 19 May, we were delighted to welcome Professor Loet Leydesdorff to share his research into measuring interdisciplinarity and synergy in our Debates in Public Policy series.

The debate was chaired by Dr Federica Rossi, with discussion from Adrian Day.

Interdisciplinarity or Synergy?

Loet began by explaining the key differences between interdisciplinarity and synergy. Interdisciplinarity can be measured using diversity measures from ecology and economics, however when policymakers call for interdisciplinarity, they often mean synergy; an externally oriented system that is more than the sum of its parts. An innovation system, for example, can be considered a system insofar as synergy is generated.

Loet shared a new methodology for computing interdisciplinarity and synergy measures, demonstrating software that allows individuals to input data into a matrix and receive an excel spreadsheet detailing the different measures of analysis. Examples of how the software might be used were given using papers from the CIMR annual report. The matrix is publicly available (for more information on the method and its application, see the event recording).

The software routines can be found at:

Loet concluded by suggesting that interdisciplinarity is an important factor for research management, whereas synergy is more important from a social perspective.

Challenges and opportunities

Discussion was led by Adrian Day, innovation, enterprise and Knowledge Exchange consultant and Visiting Fellow at the CIMR. Adrian commented on the benefits of measuring interdisciplinarity and synergy in order to fairly allocate public funding for universities, but highlighted the risk of such information being misused in order to fund pet projects. Internally, it could be a useful tool for institutions to decide on where best to allocate time and resources for maximum impact.

Questions from the audience explored the applications of Loet’s methodology in the workplace or to organisational structures to evidence synergy and measure the opportunities in their knowledge base.

A recording of this event is available to watch on YouTube.


Leydesdorff, L., & Ivanova, I. (2021). The Measurement of Interdisciplinarity and Synergy” in Scientific and Extra-Scientific Collaborations. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 72 (1), 387-402. doi: