One university’s response to addressing complex real-world problems / Respuesta de una universidad para afrontar problemas complejos del mundo real

Community member post by Carlos Mataix, Javier Carrasco, Sara Romero and Marcel Bursztyn

A Spanish version of this post is available

How can universities more effectively address complex real-world problems, especially in sustainable development? What’s needed is not only disciplinary expertise, but also an ability to deal with systems problems involving wicked dynamic interrelations and a diversity of stakeholders, with varying levels of power to design and implement solutions. Researchers need to interact with a diversity of actors, inside and outside the academic community and to take into account diverse mental frameworks, languages, cultures and interests.

The Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM)

A growing number of faculty members at the Technical University of Madrid have sought to address this challenge, leading to the creation in March 2012 of the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM).

The Centre’s main characteristics are:

  • Its aim of contributing to the solution of sustainability problems through both collaborative research and postgraduate problem-oriented education, involving students from diverse disciplines
  • Voluntary affiliation of university faculty members and researchers to itdUPM, with more than 200 currently holding joint appointments or multiple affiliations between departments or research groups and itdUPM. A faculty member will undertake teaching duties for their department, disciplinary research within their research group, and action-focused research on sustainable development problems with members of the itdUPM network
  • Affiliates also include non-academic professionals and experts with a record of collaboration with itdUPM and its working groups
  • The Centre is organized as a network
  • Teams are not permanent and they are established as task forces of varying durations.

The Centre’s organization is represented in the figure below. The circles represent the network’s nodes:

  • Management Committee (19 lecturers and coordinators of Research Groups and PhD holders)
  • Standing Committees (working under the Management Committee to speed up processes and programmes)
  • Communities of Knowledge and Practices (communities focus on different disciplines)
  • Technical Team (fulfills the enabler node function composed by a group of individuals dedicated exclusively to itdUPM).
carlos-mataix
Carlos Mataix (biography)

javier_carrasco
Javier Carrasco (biography)

sara-romero
Sara Romero (biography)

marcel-bursztyn
Marcel Bursztyn (biography)

The solid lines represent relationships and the dotted lines represent the boundary of the itdUPM internal organisation

mataix_organisation-itdUPM
Internal organisation of the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM) in 2016. Source: the authors

The scope of itdUPM activities is shown in the next figure. The horizontal axis depicts two complementary aims, namely positive changes in societal behavior and mindsets, as well as practical solutions to sustainability problems. The vertical axis shows the degree of interaction among actors: from actions confined in the university space to actions where the university campus is a field of collaboration with public, private and societal actors.

itdUPM sustainability goals are aligned along the resulting four quadrants: a) campus as a multi-stakeholder collaboration space; b) solutions to sustainability problems; c) sense making and behavioural changes in society towards sustainability; and, d) engagement of university community in sustainability endeavors.

mataix_framework-itdUPM
The Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM) framework (2017). Source: the authors

Outcomes and lessons learnt

Centre successes include:

  • Consolidation of the Master’s Program on Strategies and Technologies for Development, jointly run between the Technical University of Madrid and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid; this is currently the most popular Master’s program at the Technical University of Madrid.
  • Successful completion of the Shire program aimed at supplying electrical energy to refugee camps in Ethiopia. This was carried out in alliance with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Spanish Agency of Cooperation for Development, three international technological companies (Iberdrola, Acciona and Phillips), and a Norwegian non-governmental organization.

Key lessons learnt are:

  • A crucial factor for the success of itdUPM activities has been to create the appropriate context to foster multi-actor collaboration and channel the generous enthusiasm of the people involved
  • Joint working of university faculty and outside professionals and companies on complex development problems has been feasible and successful, despite foreseeable initial difficulties arising from differences in mental frameworks, approaches and interests
  • The eclectic and pragmatic education provided by itdUPM means that alumni demonstrate a high capacity to adapt to ever-changing professional challenges
  • Academic evaluation and reward systems, associated with the multiple affiliations of faculty, are inadequate to properly recognize contributions. High levels of motivation are required to overcome this disincentive.

What has your organization’s experience been with tackling complex real-world problems? What organizational structures have worked? How have faculty and non-academic actors been recruited and rewarded?

To find out more:
The itdUPM website at: http://www.itd.upm.es/

Mataix, C., Romero, S., Mazorra, J., Moreno, J., Ramil, X., Stott, L., Carrasco, J., Lumbreras, J. and Borrella, I. (2017). Working for Sustainability Transformation in an Academic Environment: The Case of itdUPM. In: Leal Filho, W., Brandli, L. L., Castro, P. and Newman, J. (eds.), Handbook of Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development in Higher Education, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland: 391-408. Online: http://www.itd.upm.es/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/428360_1_En_24_Chapter_OnlinePDF.pdf (PDF 432KB)

Biography: Carlos Mataix is Professor at the Department of Industrial Engineering at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain and director of the University’s Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM). He has a long history in the field of international cooperation for development. He co-founded the Spanish Association of Engineers Without Borders (now ONGAWA, Engineering for Human Development), and was responsible for the Planning Unit and Quality Support of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation.

Biography: Javier Carrasco is Emeritus Professor at the Department of Industrial Engineering at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain and a member of the University’s Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM). His current area of interest is the promotion of interdisciplinarity and collaborative research as a way to promote the contribution of the University to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Biography: Sara Romero is an anthropologist at the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM) in Spain. Her research interests are in social innovation, ethnography and social change.

Biography: Marcel Bursztyn is a Full Professor in the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Brasília. He is the coordinator of the Observatory of Socio-environmental Dynamics at the National Institute of Science and Technology. His research interests are climate change governance, public policies integration, interdisciplinarity, and sustainable development.


Respuesta de una universidad para afrontar problemas complejos del mundo real / One university’s response to addressing complex real-world problems

An English version of this post is available

¿Cómo pueden las universidades afrontar problemas complejos del mundo real, especialmente los relativos a desarrollo sostenible? Lo que se necesita es no sólo conocimiento disciplinar, sino además una capacidad para tratar problemas de sistemas que conllevan interrelaciones enmarañadas dinámicas y una diversidad de implicados provistos de diversos niveles de poder para diseñar e implementar soluciones. Los investigadores necesitan interaccionar con diversos actores, pertenecientes a la comunidad académica y exteriores a ella, y tener en cuenta distintas estructuras mentales, lenguajes, culturas e intereses.

El Centro de Innovación en Tecnologías para el Desarrollo Humano de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (itdUPM)

Un número creciente de profesores e investigadores de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid decidieron afrontar este reto, lo que condujo a la creación, en marzo de 2012, del Centro de innovación en Tecnologías para el Desarrollo Humano (itdUPM).

Las principales características del Centro son:

  • Su propósito es contribuir a la solución de problemas de sostenibilidad mediante investigación colaborativa y educación de posgrado orientada a problemas, incluyendo estudiantes de diversas disciplinas
  • Afiliación voluntaria a itdUPM de profesores e investigadores universitarios, incluyendo actualmente más de 200 que mantienen nombramiento conjunto o afiliación múltiple entre departamentos, grupos de investigación e itdUPM. Un profesor realiza tareas de enseñanza para su departamento, investigación disciplinaria en su grupo de investigación, e investigación orientada a la acción sobre problemas de desarrollo con miembros de la red itdUPM
  • Entre los afiliados se incluyen también profesionales no académicos y expertos con experiencia de colaboración con itdUPM y sus grups de trabajo
  • El Centro está organizado en forma de red
  • Los equipos no son permanentes y se establecen como grupos de trabajo con duraciones variables.

La organización del Centro se representa en la figura 1:

Organización interna del El Centro de Innovación en Tecnologías para el Desarrollo Humano de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (itdUPM) en 2016. Los círculos representan los nodos de la red itdUPM: Management Committee, o Comité de Dirección (compuesto por 19 profesores/as que son coordinadores de grupos de investigación y por doctorandos/as); Standing Committees, o Comités Permanentes (emanan del Comité de Dirección e impulsan proyectos y programas); Communities of Knowledge and Practices, o Comunidades de Conocimiento y Práctica (comunidades focalizadas en disciplinas diversas); Technical Team, o Equipo Técnico (funciona como un nodo facilitador de la red, compuesto por un grupo de personas dedicadas exclusivamente al itdUPM). Las líneas continuas representan relaciones. Las líneas de puntos representan los límites de la organización interna del itdUPM. Fuente: los autores

El alcance de las actividades de itdUPM se muestra en la figura 2. En el eje horizontal se representan dos fines complementarios, por un lado, cambios positivos en comportamientos y marcos conceptuales de la sociedad, y, por el otro, soluciones prácticas a problemas de sostenibilidad. En el eje vertical se representa el grado de interacción entre actores: desde actividades confinadas en el espacio de la universidad, hasta actividades donde el campus universitario es un espacio de colaboración con actores públicos, privados y de la sociedad civil.

Los objetivos de sostenibilidad de itdUPM se alinean así según los cuatro cuadrantes resultantes: a) el campus como espacio de colaboración multiactor; b) soluciones a problemas de sostenibilidad; c) creación de sentido y cambios de comportamiento en la sociedad hacia la sostenibilidad; d) compromiso de la comunidad universitaria en trayectorias de sostenibilidad.

Marco de acción del El Centro de Innovación en Tecnologías para el Desarrollo Humano de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (itdUPM) (2017). Fuente: los autores

Resultados y lecciones aprendidas

Los logros del Centro incluyen:

  • Consolidación del Programa Master en Estrategias y Tecnologías para el Desarrollo, realizado conjuntamente por la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid y La Universidad Complutense de Madrid; actualmente es el programa master más popular de la UPM
  • Finalización exitosa del programa Shire destinado al suministro de energía eléctrica en campos de refugiados en Etiopía. Ha sido desarrollado en alianza con el Alto Comisionado para Refugiados de Naciones Unidas, la Agencia Española de Cooperación para el Desarrollo, tres compañías tecnológicas internacionales (Iberdrola, Acciona y Phillips) y una organización no gubernamental noruega.

Lecciones clave aprendidas son:

  • Un factor crucial para el éxito de las actividades de itdUPM ha sido crear el contexto adecuado para que tengan lugar las colaboraciones multi-actor canalizando el generoso entusiasmo de las personas implicadas
  • El trabajo conjunto de profesores universitarios y profesionales externos en problemas complejos de desarrollo ha sido factible y exitoso, a pesar de las dificultades iniciales, previsibles, derivadas de diferencias en sus respectivas tramas conceptuales, enfoques e intereses
  • La educación pragmática y ecléctica facilitada por itdUPM se traduce en que los alumnos demuestran una alta capacidad para adaptarse a retos profesionales cambiantes
  • Los sistemas de evaluación y recompensa asociados a las múltiples afiliaciones de los profesores, son inadecuados para reconocer adecuadamente sus contribuciones. Se requieren altos niveles de motivación para sobreponerse a este desincentivo.

Algunas cuestiones para continuar la reflexión: ¿Cuál ha sido la experiencia de su organización al abordar problemas complejos del mundo real? ¿Qué estructuras organizacionales han funcionado? ¿Cómo se ha realizado el llamamiento y se ha recompensado a los profesores y actores no académicos?

Para más información, ver:
The itdUPM website at: http://www.itd.upm.es/

Mataix, C., Romero, S., Mazorra, J., Moreno, J., Ramil, X., Stott, L., Carrasco, J., Lumbreras, J. and Borrella, I. (2017). Working for Sustainability Transformation in an Academic Environment: The Case of itdUPM. In: Leal Filho, W., Brandli, L. L., Castro, P. and Newman, J.  (eds.), Handbook of Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development in Higher Education, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland: 391-408. Online: http://www.itd.upm.es/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/428360_1_En_24_Chapter_OnlinePDF.pdf (PDF 432KB)

One thought on “One university’s response to addressing complex real-world problems / Respuesta de una universidad para afrontar problemas complejos del mundo real

  1. It is likely that your ITDC will become a breeding ground over the long-term for new collaborations and new potential collaborators, which will be even more important than its current achievements; it will begin to bed-in the perception of collaborative expertise and work as being mainstream to the modern academic world, so facilitating the alignment of rewards, etc., with the recognition of effective collaborative work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s