The promise of using similar methods across disciplines

By Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

Interdisciplinarity has the potential to broaden and deepen our understanding and application of methods and tools to address complex challenges. When we embrace interdisciplinarity we broaden what we know about the potential methods for assessing and tackling problems, and we deepen our understanding of specific methods by applying these methods across different contexts. In my pursuit to understand co-creative processes by interconnected stakeholders – i.e., the deep and authentic engagement of stakeholders across governance, science, and community boundaries to identify and optimize the use of evidence for positive outcomes – I have been influenced by methods used outside of my discipline of implementation science and current context of child welfare services. For example, I recently read an article that studied the co-production of knowledge in soils governance (Prager & McKee, 2015) in the United Kingdom and was struck by the usefulness of these ideas for child welfare services in the United States.

The authors use a methodology referred to as “action arenas” to describe and discern the co-production processes that take place between specific stakeholder groups in soils governance. I have found their operationalization of “levels of interaction” between stakeholder groups as incredibly relevant for child welfare services. Like soils governance, child welfare initiatives involve a wide range of stakeholders (researchers, policy makers, funders, service provider, families) who must interact and, through mutual negotiation, develop products and processes to make decisions and move work forward. I have recently modified the “levels of interaction” for the child welfare context and used this taxonomy to discern specific strategies that promote increased stakeholder interactions in distinct action arenas. I wonder if others have found the same promise in interdisciplinary approaches?

Prager, K. and McKee, A. (2015). Co-production of Knowledge in Soils Governance. International Journal of Rural Law and Policy, 1: 4352 (Online:

Biography: Allison Metz, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist, Director of the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), and Senior Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Allison specializes in the implementation, mainstreaming, and scaling of evidence to achieve social impact for children and families in a range of human service and education areas, with an emphasis on child welfare and early childhood service contexts. Among many projects, Allison is studying how to effectively co-create the conditions to sustain the use of research evidence in public child welfare through a project funded by the William T. Grant Foundation. She is also a Principal Investigator on a project to develop co-creative capacity for addressing socio-environmental problems and beyond through an international collaboration funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

4 thoughts on “The promise of using similar methods across disciplines”

  1. I’m pleased to see that our work inspired a researcher from another disciplinary field. I would like to acknowledge Elinor Ostrom for the conceptualisation of action arenas, and Jurian Edelenbos and colleagues for the analytical tool of interaction levels. Both would represent yet another disciplinary field. Testing to see if such an analytical tool applies to one’s own context or project, and then to develop it further as Allison has done helps progress our understanding and our methods.

  2. I can confirm both of you, Allison and Gabriele. Nevertheless we have made some very good experiences with explorative qualitative modeling interdisciplinary across fields and not just with experts but also with stakeholders. (here is an example: A qualitative cause and effect relation “more of …. leads directly to more/less …. in a comparable weak/medium/strong way” works as a kind of lingua franca using natural language.

    • Thanks Kai. Reflecting on your comment makes me wonder if modellers are more likely to share techniques across different problem areas than most researchers developing other integration and implementation methods (eg various dialogue methods). Even though, unlike you, many modellers tend to work in one area, such as environment or health, the techniques may be more likely to be shared. In that way modelling may operate similarly to the discipline of statistics. When a statistician working on a health problem develops a new method, s/he reports it in the statistics literature rather than the health literature. And in that way a statistician working in another area, such as education or security can easily pick that method up. I am curious to what extent that is similar in modelling?

      It is probably true for a modelling method like system dynamics (see eg System Dynamics Review), but I wonder about others? For example it’s been pointed out to me (thanks Serena Hamilton) that my journal list last week ( missed at least one important modelling journal – Environmental Modelling and Software – and that’s certainly focused in one area.

      The issue is compounded by modelling being much more widely used in some areas than others, eg it is much more likely to be used by environmental researchers than by population health researchers.

      I’d welcome thoughts, especially from those experienced in modelling. What journals to you read and publish in and why?


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