Building a global community to improve how complex real-world problems are tackled

By Gabriele Bammer

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

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

As the blog moves into its 4th year, how well is it achieving its goals? Is it succeeding in sharing concepts and methods across the multiple groups addressing complex real-world problems – groups including inter- and trans- disciplinarians, systems thinkers, action researchers and implementation scientists, as well as the myriad researchers working on complex environmental, health and other societal problems, who do not necessarily identify with these networks? Is it providing a forum to connect these disparate groups and individuals? Is it helping to build an international research community to improve how complex real-world problems are tackled?

In addition to addressing these questions, I list ten blog posts that you should not miss. That is followed by the most viewed blog posts of 2018, as well as the most viewed over the life of the blog.

I hope you’ll be enticed to read or revisit some of the rich array of posts available on the i2Insights blog.

Is the blog succeeding in its aims?

Sharing concepts and methods

Slowly but surely, we’re making progress. With 221 blog posts now published, there’s a growing library of useful concepts and methods for tackling complex societal and environmental problems. While these are the main focus of the blog, we also publish teaching practices, institutionalization examples and case studies.

By-and-large the posts have a long shelf life, so even those published when the blog first started are still useful and relevant. And we don’t just focus on publishing new concepts and methods. One of the challenges we’re seeking to overcome is that practices established in one community may be completely unknown in another, so we’re also keen to provide blog posts on the best existing tools, as well as new ones.

Blog posts now cover 250 topics (with several topics usually included in one blog post) and you can see the most popular in the topics cloud in the right hand column. The top ten (actually eleven) are:

Examples of ten topics that are less commonly covered but no less important are:

The easiest way to find blog posts relevant to your interests is to use the tags in the topics cloud or the search function (both in the right hand column). For example, if you want to know about integration, just click on the tag ‘integration’ and you’ll get a list of blog posts on that topic. If you want a less common topic, eg reflexivity, search for that term and four (currently) blog posts will be listed.

Alternatively if you want to scan the blog for tools or ideas that you might be unfamiliar with, browse the list of all posts. Or if you are not already one of the (almost) 900 subscribers to the blog, signing up will provide you with a weekly e-mail that alerts you to the most recent addition. We try to make the aim of the blog post clear in the title and opening sentences, so that you can quickly decide if it’s of interest.

As Tilo Weber’s blog post reminds us, language matters. We welcome blog posts in more than one language and we’ve had some success in providing blog posts in Spanish (seven posts), French (two posts) and Portuguese (one post), as well as English. We don’t have resources to provide other translations ourselves, and the best we can do at this stage is provide an easy link to Google Translate (near the top of the right hand column).

Building a community

We’re always keen to attract new authors, as well as to welcome back existing contributors. For the 2018 blog posts there were 59 new authors and 18 returning contributors.

Additionally, we want to expand the countries involved in the blog. The blog is now read in well over 90% of the 193 countries recognised by the United Nations. The number of views in 2018 ranged from less than 10 in 32 countries to between 1,000 and just over 20,000, in (in increasing numbers) India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the USA.

We’re keen to increase the number of countries our authors come from. We currently have contributors from 31 countries and we are delighted that four of these countries were added in 2018.

We’re particularly keen to make this a truly global forum. Complex societal and environmental problems are tackled in every country and improving the array of relevant concepts and methods is one area where each country has something to contribute.

If you haven’t written a blog post before we’ll support you. In fact, the majority of contributors were blog novices. We’ve had good feedback about the editing and other help we provide.

The opportunity to comment on blog posts and to exchange views is a critical part of the blog.  There was a significant increase in commenting between 2016 and 2017, with commenting falling back slightly in 2018 (although the year isn’t quite finished yet). The median number of comments was 2 in 2016, 7 in 2017 and 6 in 2018. The percentage of blog posts with no comments was 26% in 2016, 6% in 2017 and 8% in 2018.

Overall we are moving forward in building a larger community to connect members of existing groups working on complex real-world problems, as well as teams and individual researchers who are not members of the transdisciplinary, systems thinking or other networks. But there’s still much more that can be done – and we’d be thrilled if you were involved!

Final words for 2018

We’re taking a two-week break. We already have some great blog posts lined up for 2019 and the first will appear in the week of January 7. In the meantime we’d be delighted to hear from you. Do provide your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below. Do send in your ideas for blog posts. And last but not least, happy reading!

Ten blog posts you should not miss 

  1. Find out about argument-based tools that can be used to systematize decision making if key information is missing or contested, or when probabilities or values are undetermined:  Argument-based tools to account for uncertainty in policy analysis and decision support by Sven Ove Hansson and Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn
  2. See how the outcome measures used in evaluation of services can be improved by involving service users in their construction: Overturning the design of outcome measures by Diana Rose
  3. What are the tangible physical entities (time, funding, space etc) required for effective transdisciplinary research?: Material resources for transdisciplinary research by Chris Riedy
  4. Discover useful practices for cross-cultural research: Cross-cultural collaborative research: A reflection from New Zealand by Jeff Foote
  5. See how to use art for effective community engagement: Art and participatory modelling by Hara Woltz and Eleanor Sterling
  6. Learn what’s needed for effective collaboration by funders, researchers and end-users: Designing applied research for impact by Andrew Campbell
  7. Find out how to expand and institutionalise successful complex initiatives: Scaling up amidst complexity by Ann Larson
  8. How can you identify behaviours that block change?: Bringing the Immunity-to-ChangeTM process to the scientific community by Erica Lawlor and Cheryl Vaughan
  9. Discover how to take stock of all the evidence on a complex issue and how to use risk as the integrative framework: Using the concept of risk for transdisciplinary assessment by Greg Schreiner
  10. Learn how to reduce value conflict by sharing stories and distilling commonalities: Getting to a shared definition of a “good” solution in collaborative problem-solving by Doug Easterling

Most viewed of the 2018 blog posts (more than 600 views)

Inter- and trans- disciplinarity and team science

Research implementation


Most viewed blog posts over the life of the blog (more than 1000 views)

Inter- and trans- disciplinarity

Research implementation




Practical guidance and specific methods

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. 

3 thoughts on “Building a global community to improve how complex real-world problems are tackled”

  1. Posted on behalf of Jack Park
    I believe this is a solid review and index into the blog thus far. In my opinion, given growing tensions the world over, this is just the beginning. We have a lot more to do with this blog, and to solidly act on it.
    Happy New Year!

  2. Dear Gabriele,

    I only came across the blog this year and I just wanted to drop you and your fellow contributors a quick word of appreciation. I have found the blog and resources to be a really useful resource for multiple reasons.

    I hope you all have a good break over the festive season and look forward to more blogs in 2019.


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