Complexity, diversity, modelling, power, trust, unknowns… Who is this blog for?

By Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

This is the first annual “state of the blog” review.

This is a blog for researchers who:

  • want better concepts and methods for understanding and acting on complex real-world problems – problems like refugee crises, global climate change, and inequality.
  • are intrigued by the messiness of how components of a problem interact, how context can be all-important and how power can stymie or facilitate action.
  • understand that complex problems do not have perfect solutions; instead that “best possible” or “least worst” solutions are more realistic aims.
  • enjoy wrangling with unknowns to better manage, or even head-off, unintended adverse consequences and unpleasant surprises.
  • are keen to look across the boundaries of their own expertise to see what concepts and methods are on offer from those with different academic backgrounds grappling with other kinds of problems.
  • want to join forces to build a community which freely shares concepts and methods for dealing with complex problems, so that these become a stronger part of the mainstream of academic research and education.

November saw this blog’s first anniversary and this 100th blog post reviews what we are aiming for and how we are tracking. So far, we have had:

  • 109 contributors from 20 countries
  • more than 40,000 views from people spread across 156 of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations.

We publish more detailed statistical analyses every three months.

There are already informative, and sometimes provocative, contributions in the pipeline for 2017. We aim to keep building the number of contributors and to expand the range of countries involved. Check out our suggestions for contributing and consider this as an open invitation!


Public domain image by Geralt, Pixabay; Creative Commons CC0 1.0)

What do we publish?

The primary focus is concepts and methods for dealing with complex real world problems, for example how to:

  • identify and synthesise diverse perspectives
  • understand and manage what we do not and cannot know
  • engage policy makers and practitioners to implement research findings.

The blog also covers how higher education can better prepare the next generation to understand and act on complex problems.

And finally, the blog concerns itself with how to make effective ways of dealing with complex problems a more central part of the academic mainstream in both research and education. Two key, inter-related, barriers – which I wrote about in my first blog post – are:

  • fragmentation of effort
  • lack of an agreed name for who we are and what we do.

For those interested in the statistics, we have published:

Ten of the most common tags are: Modelling (28), Interdisciplinarity (24), Collaboration (23), Stakeholders (22), Co-creation (18), Transdisciplinarity (18), Research implementation (15), Change (13), Communication (13), and Unknowns (13).

The five most popular blog posts, each with more than 1,000 views are:

It’s worth pointing out that the blog is designed to be a repository of knowledge about ways of understanding and acting on complex problems and while blog posts will inevitably date, they are designed to have a relatively long life.

How can you get involved?

Write a blog post!
Comment on blog posts!
Advertise the blog!
Partner with us!

Next time you publish a paper that deals with a complex issue, consider if there’s a method or concept in it that others should know about – and write a blog post about it. That’s also a great way to boost the readership of your paper. We also welcome blog posts on concepts that are still in development and more – feel free to contact us to float your ideas.

Do comment if a blog posts sparks a thought. While there have not been as many discussions as we hope to promote, check out Val Snow’s blog post on “Should I trust that model” for the kind of conversation we’d like to see more of. We’ve had 275 comments on this site so far (with about the same number across a range of LinkedIn groups) and would like to increase that dramatically next year.

Encourage your colleagues to write blog posts. Reblog posts. Use your social media networks to get the word out. Currently, each blog post is advertised on Twitter, via relevant LinkedIn groups and listservs, and to individuals who may be interested. Anything you can do to enhance promotion is greatly appreciated.

Are you working on a project that could contribute a series of blog posts? We’d be happy to discuss a partnership to amplify your work and expand our contributions. We currently have four such partnerships, with:

  • National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)
  • contributors to the book Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes edited by Dena Fam, Jane Palmer, Chris Riedy and Cynthia Mitchell (Routledge, 2016)
  • the journal Evidence and Policy
  • the Collaboration Lab project.

The partnership with SESYNC is as old as the blog and has been particularly productive. We regularly publish blog posts from the theme “Building resources for complex, action-oriented team science” and related activities.

To date we’ve published three blog posts based on chapters in the book Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes and have more in the pipeline for next year.

We’ve recently entered into a partnership with the journal Evidence and Policy, where we invite authors of papers with particular salience for this blog to contribute blog posts. The first contributor was Vicky Ward on knowledge mobilization and several are in train for next year. Evidence and Policy will make papers in this series available in open access for a month after the blog post is published (for papers that are not already open access).

A new project “The Collaboration Lab” funded by the New Zealand Our Land and Water National Science Challenge will also publish relevant aspects of its work in the blog. Rawiri Smith recently kicked-off that series.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is a professor at The Australian National University in the Research School of Population Health’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. She is developing the new discipline of Integration and Implementation Sciences (I2S) to improve research strengths for tackling complex real-world problems through synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. She leads the theme “Building Resources for Complex, Action-Oriented Team Science” at the US National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center.

2 thoughts on “Complexity, diversity, modelling, power, trust, unknowns… Who is this blog for?”

  1. Many thanks Gabriele for the blog and for your informative Review of the first year. Insightful and clear blog posts will be handy again where we start our second Interdisciplinary Development course (taught in Finnish) for mature part-time master students. We use the blog as a window to global conversation on dealing with complex problems and interdiciplinary issues for those who want to keep the window of opportunity open and who have some confidence in their language skills.


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