Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence

author-roderick-lawrence
Roderick Lawrence (biography)

What do we mean by “scaffolding” and how is it used in transdisciplinary research?

Scaffolding is a metaphor transferred from building construction and used in pedagogy and teaching methods since the 1970s to assist learning processes. This metaphor has also been applied to multi-stakeholder processes that require collective decision making about complex societal challenges including conflictual situations. In this context scaffolding is used in deliberative processes, identifying those constituents that require facilitation, and selecting the appropriate methods and tools to achieve desired outcomes.

Scaffolding is increasingly recognized as necessary to assist bridge building between people, especially in transdisciplinary research and project implementation about complex situations and persistent problems that have no simple solutions. Scaffolding is required because there is no ideal or universal method for cross-fertilizing different perceptions and values in these cases. Scaffolding acknowledges that tools and methods exist and that they need to be carefully understood and adapted to the situation or problem addressed, and to the specific characteristics of its context, including the group of participants in the research project.

lawrence_scaffolding-transdisciplinary-contributions-post_image-of-bridge
(Source: Roderick Lawrence)

One example of scaffolding in transdisciplinary research and project implementation occurs in addressing differences that may be conflictual. Thomas Jordan (2014) explained that interpersonal dialogue and shared understanding can be facilitated by scaffolding that supports collective thinking and co-action of a diverse group of participants with diverse backgrounds. He listed the advantages of scaffolding according to six key functions (each including several subcomponents, which are not presented here):

  1. Enabling attention support and group focusing
  2. Enhancing communication and interpersonal relationships
  3. Expressing personal attitudes, feelings and promoting group engagement
  4. Improving awareness and understanding while creating common-ground
  5. Promoting personal empowerment and mobilizing creativity
  6. Coordinating decision-making and implementation of desired outcomes.

These are active scaffolding processes. Passive factors (such as the organization of spaces for group discussions), are also important. For example, well-known and documented methods for collaborative action research include:

  • Open Space
  • World Café
  • Research Circles.

Scaffolding denotes prescribing the social and physical characteristics of spaces where members of consortia from different backgrounds meet to discuss subjects of mutual concern. Scaffolding also includes virtual spaces provided by new information and communication technologies that enable contact between the members of consortia when they are not present together.

Scaffolding used to facilitate transdisciplinary research and project implementation should be broader in scope and purpose than a focus on toolboxes (methods and tools) to involve the competences and skills of facilitators. Numerous projects illustrate how facilitators guide deliberative processes involving many participants who do not necessarily share common perceptions, meanings and values. Scaffolding increases our capability to respond effectively to these situations and problems.

What has been your experience in using scaffolding in multi-stakeholder projects? Do you have published cases you would like to share with others?

To find out more:
Lawrence, R. (2020). Creating Built Environments: Bridging Knowledge and Practice Divides. Routledge: London, United Kingdom. (Book details:) https://www.routledge.com/Creating-Built-Environments-Bridging-Knowledge-and-Practice-Divides/Lawrence/p/book/9780815385394

This book builds on my previous blog post Three tasks for transdisciplinary bridge builders and includes analysis and synthesis of numerous transdisciplinary projects that collectively illustrate the advantages and limitations of innovative cases in the broad field of built environments in an era of globalization and urbanization.

References:
Jordan, T. (2014). Deliberative Methods for Complex Issues: A typology of functions that may need scaffolding, Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, 13: 50-71.

Biography: Roderick Lawrence D.Sc. is Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He was awarded a DSc by Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. He has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research at the Swiss Academy of Sciences since 2009.

11 thoughts on “Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions”

  1. Dear Roderick, dear all, the discussion is inspiring. Even if one is experienced in conducting TD projects, each project remains a bit “adventurous”. The processes perform differently depending on the topics under discussion, the persons involved and the socio-spatial context, in which they are embedded. As researchers we have an eye on the design of the processes and the dynamics regarding content related and social aspects, but we have to admit that we can’t really steer or control the ongoing processes (not least because we are part of them.) I perfectly agree with Roderick (on September 7), when he argues, that “competences and skills used to support transdisciplinary projects require more understanding and applications” and things can’t be managed by opening the toolbox. Scaffolding is a valuable metaphor for the researchers’ role as facilitator, supporter and honest broker of (scientific) knowledge, and it provides an outlook on the actions that can be taken. (I like the metaphor, even though it could be understood as a bit paternalistic and objectifying. But I assume the practice partners co-construct the scaffold…)

    To “enable an enlarged understanding that incorporates multiple viewpoints based on different sometimes conflicting knowledge cultures” (Rodericks’ first response to Vladimir) is an important premise in TD research and guides us as a regulative idea (Kant). On the other hand, I think we have to judge our possibilities realistically. We only can try to create the best conditions for successful projects. I would like to add three aspects to the discussion (following the key functions of scaffolding mentioned by Roderick with reference to Jordan 2014).

    1) Relationship-building and a culture of communication possibly have to be developed apart from critical and conflictual situations.
    I have made the experience (and we know that from conflict theory, too), that in difficult constellations with contradicting and eventually conflicting positions it is helpful to create settings, where the subject can be discussed on a more general level, irrespective of any specific decision making situation. For instance regular dialog forums can be introduced, where people meet to exchange perspectives apart from specific cases. Thus, scaffolding means to relieve the system of the pressure to decide immediately and to create heterotopic spaces (Foucault).
    (A comment on point 2, “Enhancing communication and interpersonal relationships”)

    2) Transparency of personal points of view and the depersonalization of topics are important prerequisites for handling wicked problems.
    The reconstruction and explanation of structural conditions and system logics laying beyond a conflicting situation can help to handle topics on a meta-level. Selected theoretical input (e.g. from conflict theory, organization theory, systems theory) in an adequate dosage proved to be helpful. Apart from questions of individual guilt, it can help to clearly see the inherent contradictions, the wicked character of the subjects under discussion. To explicitly depersonalize a topic can foster communication in heterogeneous groups. It’s like finding a consensus in dissent.
    (A comment on point 4, “Improving awareness and understanding while creating common ground”)

    3) As researchers we have to critically reflect on which of our roles and actions are accepted by the practice partners.
    This aspect touches the question of legitimation. Do decisions really have to be made as part of TD processes? Further, can decisions be made easily as part of TD projects? Are the stakeholders really willing to do that? To exchange perspectives and knowledge, mutual learning, is one thing, to make decisions and implement measures another. Sometimes it is a question of the scope and the bindingness of the decisions to be made, if stakeholders are willing to decide and if they accept the researchers as facilitators. I have made the experience that stakeholders withdraw, when things “get serious” (even if they signalled willingness to action in the beginning of the project). One important factor is the planning stage in projects. In contract research, financed by the practice partners, the commitment to the process and the willingness to action is high, but that’s not necessarily the case in all TD projects, particularly if the initiative for a project comes from research. Thus, to which degree the potential of scaffolding in decision making can be made fruitful depends on the specific constellation of a project.
    (A comment on point 6, “Coordinating decision-making and implementation of desired outcomes”)
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thank you Marina for your interesting comments on the blog. I am replying to some points you have raised to let you know my position and share a few more ideas.

      First, I had not considered scaffolding as being paternalistic. Since reading your comment I have confirmed to myself that I do not think it is intended paternalism. The metaphor of scaffolding (which I recall is a figure of speech rather than an object) is meant to illustrate how facilitating transdisciplinary projects can (and should) provide a human-centered supportive framework for the reasons you mentioned, and others too discussed by Thomas Jordan and others. I think that without scaffolding some projects may not achieve their potential and desired outcomes.

      Your comments about providing the best conditions for transdisciplinary projects highlights the important function of facilitating projects according to their specific characteristics. In my new book, apart from discussing methods and methodology, I have reinterpreted the concept of convergence space proposed by Paul Routledge (2003) as a support for communication between participants in a transdisciplinary project. Convergence spaces are not only physical meeting places; they can also be virtual platforms enabling people to communicate about a project, and distribute documents too.

      Your third comment about scaffolding as a means to lower tensions between people is interesting and important. I have participated in projects in which a timid person in a small group of 12 participants has been encouraged to speak by the facilitator and this requires competences and skills, especially in situations where there are one or more dominant participants who want to speak. As you also noted, participants may have in-commensurable interpretations, wishes and values, and a facilitator can help manage conflicts, and hopefully negotiate agreements. I think we need to give more attention to this subject. You also mentioned the pressure of time which I have repeatedly experienced as a personal and a shared frustration. Often the calendar and time allocated for projects is imposed by predefined conditions (e.g. administrative limits, amount of funding, availability of people) which are often not negotiable. It is important to clearly announce the ‘rules of the game’ at the beginning of projects rather than later. Related to time, adherence to projects by all participants cannot be assumed and a main reason for lack of commitment is whether regular, long-term participation is necessary.

      Your comment about depersonalizing issues is pertinent and necessary to reduce the likelihood of ‘winners and losers’. My experience with two Local Agenda 21 projects in French-speaking cities in Switzerland is that some participants want to ensure or protect self-interest rather than promote community or public good. A key question I have not yet answered is “How can we ensure that ego-centrism is replaced by altruism, and personal benefit is superseded by the common good?” Rather than an open door, can the selection of participants be justified to respond to this challenge? Here we consider fundamental democratic, ethical and political dimensions of transdisciplinary inquiry that you have raised in your comments and need more consideration. Many thanks and good luck with your ongoing projects in Austria.

      Further readings
      Lawrence, R. (2020). Collective and creative consortia: combining knowledge, ways of knowing and praxis, Cities & Health: https://doi.org/10.1080/23748834.2020.1711996

      Routledge, P. (2003). Convergences space: process geographies of grassroots globalization networks, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28 (3) : 333-349. https://rgs-ibg.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1475-5661.00096

      Reply
  2. Dear Roderick
    Thank you for the information about your blog. Very interesting and useful information!

    Roderick, I was confused by your thesis:
    «Scaffolding is increasingly recognized as necessary to assist bridge building between people, especially in transdisciplinary research and project implementation about complex situations and persistent problems that have no simple solutions. Scaffolding is required because there is no ideal or universal method for cross-fertilizing different perceptions and values in these cases».

    If you will allow me, I would like to share my thoughts on this thesis.
    A well-known philosopher argued that if you divide one big difficult-to-solve problem into 50 small difficult-to-solve problems, it will not lead to the solution of the main problem, but will create the appearance of a process for solving it. Simply put, in this case, the problem will remain unresolved. In the context of this statement, my question is: If “there is no ideal or universal method for mutually enriching different ideas and values in these cases”, how “the tools and methods will be carefully understood and adapted to the situation or problem under consideration, as well as to the specific characteristics of its context, including the group of participants in the research project”?

    A problem is a problem that has no solution. The problem occurs when all its components and system-forming elements are not visible. The scientific worldview allows you to see these components. Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches consistently expand the horizon of scientific worldview. If the horizons of these approaches are not sufficient, then it is necessary to use similar system approaches. If this logic is correct, then the maximum horizon of the scientific worldview provides a systematic transdisciplinary approach. This means that if the scientific community has realized that there is an unsolvable problem, then at this point there must necessarily be a scientific approach that should provide a solution to such a problem. Do you think that perhaps in this situation we should take two more rational approaches? To build scaffolding:
    – based on a single, but corresponding to the level of the problem, scientific approach;
    – based on the interesting idea of “methodological flexibility” http://www.MA4TTDR.net (John van Breda, PhD, Senior Researcher: Transdisciplinarity Centre for Complex Systems in Transition).

    With respect.
    Vladimir Mokiy

    Reply
    • Thank you Vladimir for your contribution. Your comments suggest I should clarify some key points. If I understand correctly, we have shared and different viewpoints about how to understand and effectively respond to complex societal challenges and problems.

      First, I refer to your quote from an unnamed philosopher that segmenting or fragmenting complex situations or problems will not solve them. This is exactly what Jean Piaget and Eric Jantsch discussed when they first discussed transdisciplinarity at the International Seminar on Interdisciplinarity in Universities in Nice, France, in 1970. They challenged the autonomy and independence of specialized disciplinary research. They provided a framework on which collaboration between disciplines has been developed. We should not forget that discipline-based research has made fundamental contributions to scientific knowledge about certain kinds of problems. However, the contribution of science to resolving societal problems involving public policies is limited, as Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber explained about 50 years ago in their well-known article on ‘wicked’ problems (see below).

      Second, I refer to your comment about a scientific method for problem solving. I have indicated that there is no ideal method, or research protocol, like those used in scientific research. In order to resolve societal problems (such as provision of housing, or public health care), Rittel and Webber explained that they should NOT be reduced to scientific problems disconnected from a human/societal context in which they are situated (which could be implied in your last paragraph). This fundamental principle has been overlooked by many scientists who have ignored human intentions, motives and values, whereas Rittel and Webber explained they are inherent to ‘wicked’ problems. In essence, they explained that complex societal problems are embedded in these contextual variables of human culture and they help explain why there can be a gap between ‘what is known’ and ‘what is achieved’ when dealing with persistent problems. The case of climate change is one example. I have explained that diverse human intentions, motives and values need to be understood and addressed in transdisciplinary projects, and this should be facilitated by scaffolding proposed by trained facilitators. Facilitation enables scientific knowledge to be associated and combined with other types of knowledge and know-how about specific problems; then this new knowledge should be communicated, debated and (if necessary) negotiated with actors, institutions and the general public. Transdisciplinary projects enable an enlarged understanding that incorporates multiple viewpoints based on different sometimes conflicting knowledge cultures. Scaffolding can support achieving transdisciplinary projects because it is much larger and more complex than opening tool boxes, as Thomas Jordan explained in his article (see below).

      Third, I would like to comment on your statements “A problem is a problem that has no solution. The problem occurs when all its components and system-forming elements are not visible. The scientific worldview allows you to see these components.”
      I think your interpretation of problems is very different from the interpretation and distinction made by Rittel and Webber between ‘tame’ and ‘wicked problems’. They described why ‘tame problems’ do have solutions, whereas ‘wicked’ problems do not. They explained, that ALONE scientific knowledge will not resolve ‘wicked’ problems because they cannot be isolated from their societal context, especially the institutional, legal and political characteristics of situations in which they occur. I have used the case of the current coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 pandemic because it is a ‘wicked’ problem that should not be disconnected from public policies, international and national governance, allocation of appropriate resources, and the adherence of populations to behavioural and social norms and rules. If I understand Rittel and Webber correctly, a ‘tame’ problem corresponds to the production of a vaccine for Covid-19, because it will only treat the symptoms rather than the multiple causes of the incidence and propagation of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This does not mean that the vaccine is not important; it illustrates how problems are defined and interpretated quite differently by scientists, policy makers, private practitioners, and the general public in our heterogenous societies.

      Finally, the limits of scientific knowledge were clearly stated by Michael Polanyi over 50 years. The other types of extra-scientific knowledge and ‘ways of knowing’ he discussed were considered to be equally important. However, they are often ignored by scientists and academic researchers, but transdisciplinary projects can and should correct this omission. Hence, your final questions about methodological agility are pertinent and necessary; the content of the scaffolding is project-based and emergent, as I noted in my comment to Rebecca (see below). Moreover, your reference to John van Breda’s work is timely because he and his colleagues have challenged the transfer and use of tools boxes from the global north to the global south without accounting for the different societal context in which they are applied. I have discussed this subject and provided many examples in my recent book. I hope this reply is helpful.

      Suggested Readings

      1. Polanyi, M. (1969). Knowing and Being: Essays by Michael Polanyi. London UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

      2. Rittel, H. & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01405730

      3. van Breda, J. and Swilling, M. (2018). The guiding logics and principles for designing emergent transdisciplinary research processes: Learning experiences and reflections from transdisciplinary urban case study in Enkanini informal settlement, South Africa, Sustainability Science 14: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0606-x

      Reply
      • Dear Roderick, your comments are impeccable! After reading these comments, many experts will consider this topic exhausted. But it is your idea of “scaffolding” that allows me to continue our discussion…

        Agree that the context of scaffolding is not possible without the context of the construction object itself. This means that one type of scaffolding will provide communication between different specialists, when the main goal is the efficient construction of a single-story building. Another type of scaffolding will provide communication for specialists when the ceiling of the first floor is just the floor of the second floor of a multi-storey building. In both cases, the scaffolding must comply with certain safety rules. These rules establish conceptual, theoretical and methodological limitations and barriers that depend on the boundaries of the horizon, including the scientific worldview.

        I am sure that these restrictions and fences for buildings of different storeys will be based on different, possibly contradictory, authoritative opinions. For example, in your comment, you write: “I have indicated that there is no ideal method, or research protocol, like those used in scientific research. In order to resolve societal problems (such as provision of housing, or public health care), Rittel and Webber explained that they should NOT be reduced to scientific problems disconnected from a human/societal context in which they are situated (which could be implied in your last paragraph). This fundamental principle has been overlooked by many scientists who have ignored human intentions, motives and values, whereas Rittel and Webber explained they are inherent to ‘wicked’ problems. In essence, they explained that complex societal problems are embedded in these contextual variables of human culture».

        Therefore, if we consider the construction of society as the construction of a one-story building, then it turns out that ‘wicked’ problems are natural attributes of a developing society, like a person’s hair and nails. Therefore, it is fundamentally impossible and useless to solve them. But if we build a society as a multi-storey building, then the presence of ‘wicked’ problems is a challenge to the scientific worldview and the monodisciplinarity of higher education. And they must inevitably accept this challenge and respond to it with dignity. We do not disagree on this point. I don’t think we have any disagreements at all, but there is only some misunderstanding. For example, you write: “Transdisciplinary projects enable an enlarged understanding that incorporates multiple viewpoints based on different sometimes conflicting knowledge cultures. Scaffolding can support achieving transdisciplinary projects because it is much larger and more complex than opening tool boxes». For my part, I am sure that if a person is a natural object, then building a society is a natural process that can and should be known, understood, described and made manageable and trouble-free. Only for this purpose it is necessary to start construction of the next floor of the building of human society with the help of appropriate transdisciplinary scaffolding.

        Perhaps, when building this next floor for fences and scaffolding restrictions, we should consider the culture of human society as a kind of ‘interference field’ of religious, mythological, philosophical and scientific worldview? I think that the statement of Rittel and Webber can be shaken if we strengthen the disciplinary social and humanitarian methodology of first-floor scaffolding, not just a transdisciplinary methodology, but an appropriate systems transdisciplinary methodology (meta-discipline) that is suitable for the limitations of second-floor scaffolding. In this case, we are talking about a systems transdisciplinary method of “ternary counterpoints” (see: Mokiy, V. S. & Lukyanova T. A. (2019). World Social and Economic Development in the Theory of Ternary Counterpoints. European Scientific Journal. Vol. 15, no 23, ESJ August Edition, pp. 12-27. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19044/esj.2019.v15n23p12.

        In conclusion, I would like to say that a discussion on such a complex topic should be divided into several interrelated aspects: ideological, conceptual, theoretical, methodological and technological. In this case, we will involve different specialists in our discussion: philosophers, methodologists, technologists, teachers, etc. If we draw General conclusions only on one aspect and do not clarify the content of all other aspects, then it will be difficult for blog readers who are only at the beginning of their intellectual activity to evaluate some important arguments and counterarguments. At the same time, it may be found that some authoritative opinions of authoritative scientists can be refuted or not directly follow from the axioms, laws and models of the scientific disciplines that they represent. In this case, they can negatively affect the aspirations and daring of young scientists who can follow the course and result of our discussion.

        Do you agree?

        Reply
        • Thank you Vladimir for your second set of comments, suggestions and questions which I appreciate and reply hoping this interesting exchange of ideas will be pertinent for you and other readers.

          First, your comments about context are pertinent because contextualisation is a core component of trandisciplinarity and can be contrasted with reductionist approaches in many conventional scientific research protocols that decontextualize, isolate, and study the subject of concern without accounting for the conditions in which it exists. Rittel and Webber (1973) challenged this custom of much scientific research. However, we should remember that anthropologists, linguists, and other researchers in the humanities and social sciences have developed in situ methods for the study of cultural and societal variables that are embedded in a context, both geographically and temporally. We should learn from these discipline-based contributions.

          Your second concern about rules and limits is related to the above because these are embedded in legal and institutional frameworks that are contextually defined. We have learned much about them from studies of everyday life, especially collective responses to changing behavioural norms and legally binding rules. Think of the case of the introduction of the compulsory use of seat belts in many countries several decades ago, for public health reasons, and how that change was challenged by some groups but not others. My experience of transdisciplinary projects indicates that the rules and limits need to be discussed and agreed by the participants; the facilitator’s includes proposing what she/he considers to be the appropriate rules and limits for each project; what is negotiable should be understood by all as early as possible.

          Your third concern about “the construction of society as if a building” can be discussed to highlight the problematic use of metaphors. In the case of scaffolding for transdisciplinary projects, it would be mistaken to consider only the support to of physical/material structures like the scaffolding around buildings. This is a limited literal sense of the term which Thomas Jordan and colleagues in Sweden extended by discussing three key functions of scaffolding: first, passive physical scaffolding (such as the choice of space and furniture layout for deliberative processes); second, passive scaffolding that applies methods and techniques (such as Research Circles, TIP – see reference); third, active scaffolding by trained facilitators who pilot the deliberative processes. It is crucial to add that the contribution of a researcher (an insider with knowledge about the subject of deliberative processes) should not be confounded with the function of a project facilitator (a pilot for the project that should have a neutral position).

          Your final point is crucial because transdisciplinarity has been directly associated with overcoming segmentation and fragmentation of discipline-based thinking since 1970. Then, both Eric Jantsch and Jean Piaget endorsed systems thinking for creating a higher level of understanding of complex situations and problems. Here I recall the discussion of Gabriele Bammer’s blog about the competences and skills of ‘T-shaped researchers’ in 2017 (see: https://i2insights.org/2017/12/05/recognising-interdisciplinary-expertise/) which you may not have seen. Its timely to recall that transdisciplinary contributions do not refute the importance of disciplinary knowledge and know-how; rather they combine and use them with other types of knowledge and know-how to create the higher order of understanding that Jantsch and Piaget agreed was necessary to deal with complex situations and problems. This is why I have highlighted the need for creativity, relational thinking and synthesis in my new book.

          Suggested Readings

          Persson, S. (2009). Research Circles: A Guidebook. City of Malmö: Centre for Diversity in Education

          Ross, S. (2006). The Integral Process for Working on Complex Issues
          http://www.global-arina.org/Documents/TIP%20Introductory%20Booklet%202006-2007.pdf

          Reply
  3. Thanks Roderick. I like the language of scaffolding very much. My reflection on reading your blog piece was that, for construction purposes, scaffolding is erected as a temporary support structure and then dismantled once the building or bridge, or whatever it is, can stand alone. It also enables the builders to move safely around a site while it is still under construction (or maintenance). While metaphors probably shouldn’t be stretched too far, this raises a productive line of inquiry for me about when to put scaffolding up and when to take it down again in transdisciplinary research. Musing aloud: If we get so accustomed to it that we no longer notice it as scaffolding, but treat it as part of the structure, does that mean we fail to put weight on the structure itself when it could in fact support our weight? Can we try lowering the scaffolding layer by layer, so that we test whether the transdisciplinary research can stand unsupported? I’ll keep chewing on these thoughts …

    Reply
    • Thank you Rebecca for your interesting comment which I appreciate, especially your concern about the temporal dimension of using scaffolding and then removing it. You have interpreted the metaphor as I have intended, and your comment raises crucial issues about dependency. Scaffolding in the construction sector is not only a temporary support, it is usually taller and larger than the buildings or infrastructure that being constructed or renovated. Hence scaffolding enables the construction of a structure that would not have been possible without the scaffolding (e.g. multi-storey buildings). Likewise, I posit that scaffolding transdisciplinary projects enables achieving outputs and outcomes that may not have been achieved without scaffolding, and this is also why I proposed the metaphor.

      Regarding your concern about when to construct the scaffolding and when to remove it in the context of transdisciplinary projects, I think this key question involves circumstances specific to each project. The decisions about scaffolding should be made collectively with the support of the competence and experience of trained facilitators; the function of project facilitators is to advise and guide transdisciplinary projects involving multiple participants. The appropriate scaffolding should be selected as early as possible in the project; it will depend on the subject of mutual concern, whether it is conflictual, what resources are available, the time allocated for the project, and who participates. Later, dismantling the scaffolding will be influenced by the capacity of the project participants to develop and adhere to collaborative initiative they trust; this is necessary before a degree of independence can be created and scaffolding can be removed. While transdisciplinary projects usually have an agreed beginning, they will usually continue after the end of funding, or facilitation, and public support, often as group or communal projects that become independent because they have transferred rights, responsibilities and power of decision making to the participants. Thanks again for your interesting commentary and I hope I have provided some ‘food for thought’.

      Reply
  4. Initially, this blog explained why the competences and skills used to support transdisciplinary projects require more understanding and applications than they have received to date. We now add that fair and just decision making processes cannot be guaranteed by legal or institutional frameworks, and that dealing with cultural and social diversity, including social inequalities, is a challenge in our world of increasing differences. Experiences in the fields of urban planning and sustainable development indicate that scaffolding is a much needed support for interpersonal communication, and especially dialogue between participants who have different intentions, meanings, perceptions, and values about specific problems or situations that may create conflicts. Fortunately, the competences and skills required to pilot and negotiate multi-stakeholder processes are valued in Sweden and recognized by a profession of facilitation applied in many circumstances. A workshop in Gothenburg in March 2019, co-organized by COST Action INTREPID and the Urban Futures Open Research School (at Mistra Urban Futures Gothenburg Platform), included examples of experiences acquired in recent years:
    https://www.mistraurbanfutures.org/en/event/method-seminar-international-workshop-facilitation-transdisciplinary-research
    Facilitation with scaffolding has been used to implement urban projects in cities in Sweden and many other countries that promote just sustainable development. As these kinds of cases increase we need to jointly answer the question “What effective outputs and outcomes of transdisciplinary projects would not have been achieved without scaffolding?” Sharing your experience can contribute to a better understanding of the merits and limitations of scaffolding.

    Suggested reading:
    Andersson, P., Ringnér, H. & Inglis, J. (2018). Constructive Scaffolding or a Procrustean Bed? Exploring the Influence of a Facilitated, Structured Group Process in a Climate Action Group, Systemic Practice and Action Research 31, 327–345. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-017-9428-5

    Reply
  5. Nice tie-in between scaffolding for education and scaffolding for communication. I like to think that we often face a “leap of inference” between what we understand… and the actions we take. The less we understand, the greater the leap, and so the greater chance of failure. That leap is doubled when we must connect with others. So… scaffolding to bridge the gap makes great sense.Thanks!

    Reply

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