Fire together, wire together: The role of funding bodies in supporting interdisciplinary research

By Mohammad Momenian

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Mohammad Momenian (biography)

Our brain is comprised of neural networks. The repeated occurrence of an action or experience creates established networks in the brain. Some synapses in these networks are connected to each other more strongly than others. In other words, the more neurons fire together, the stronger they wire together. This neuroscience principle can be used as a metaphor to call attention to the role of funding bodies in supporting new interdisciplinary research.

At the turn of the last century, we witnessed the emergence of new interdisciplinary fields

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What is the role of theory in transdisciplinary research?

By Workshop Group on Theory at 2015 Basel International Transdisciplinary Conference

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Workshop Group on Theory at 2015 Basel International Transdisciplinary Conference (biography)

Theory makes clear what transdisciplinary researchers value and stand for; we therefore have a responsibility to build and articulate it.

If we think about transdisciplinary research as a space situated between different epistemic cultures and practices, as well as being culturally contextualised, we can expect different theories of transdisciplinary research, as well as different significance and functions of theory, and different ways of working with theories, in transdisciplinary research.

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Let’s play: Co-creating award courses for designing, teaching, researching, and facilitating transdisciplinarity – Transacademic Interface Managers as an example

By Katja Brundiers and Arnim Wiek

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Katja Brundiers (biography)
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Arnim Wiek (biography)

Tanja Golja and Dena Fam concluded their article ‘Supporting academics learning to design, teach and research td-programs in higher education‘ with an invitation to other higher education and research institutions to share the state of play and their opportunities for collaboration. We are excited to respond to this call.

At Arizona State University (U.S.) various programs exist – across its schools and colleges – that allow students to work in transdisciplinary settings. These programs are avant-garde in many respects, e.g., pedagogical design, students’ learning outcomes, relationships with practice partners, implementation with real-world impact. Our experience with building a transdisciplinary and solution-oriented learning program at the School of Sustainability is documented in the article ‘Integrating Problem-and Project-based Learning into Sustainability Programs‘.

However, our examination of such programs internationally (PDF 840KB) shows that – with a few exceptions – many similar programs don’t entail a specific and scholarly-based transdisciplinary training module for students.

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Three options for research impact: Informing, driving, triggering

By Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

As a researcher, do you seek to inform change, drive it or trigger it? Informing change involves providing the best facts and evidence, driving change means working to achieve a particular research-based outcome, and triggering change involves solving a problem that sets in train a chain of effects that go far beyond the research itself. They involve different skills and have different risks.

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Can mapping mental models improve research implementation?

By Katrin Prager

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Katrin Prager (biography)

We all have different mental models of the environment and the people around us. They help us make sense of what we experience. In a recent project exploring how to improve soil management (PDF 250KB), Michiel Curfs and I used data collected from Spanish farmers and our own experience to develop and compare the mental model of a typical Spanish farmer growing olives with that of a hypothetical scientist. How did their mental models of soil degradation differ? Mainly in terms of understanding the role of ploughing, and the importance of drivers for certain soil management activities. There were only a few areas of overlap: both scientist and farmer were concerned about fire risk and acknowledged weeds. We emphasise the importance of two-way communication, and recommend starting by focusing on areas of overlap and then moving to areas that are different. Without integrating understandings from both mental models, the scientist will carry on making recommendations for reducing soil degradation that the farmer cannot implement or does not find relevant.

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Supporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?

By Tanja Golja and Dena Fam

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Tanja Golja’s biography
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Dena Fam (biography)

In their 2013 report on the significance of transdisciplinary approaches to advance scientific discovery and address formidable societal challenges (PDF 700KB), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) put out a call to “expand education paradigms to model transdisciplinary approaches” (p. xiii). Ought we be considering whether transdisciplinary approaches might reconfigure education paradigms, and if so, why?

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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.

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Where to publish? Journals for research integration and implementation concepts, methods and processes

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

If you have developed a new dialogue method for bringing together insights from different disciplinary experts and stakeholders, or a refined modelling technique for taking uncertainty into account, or an innovative process for knowledge co-creation with government policy makers, where can you publish these to get maximum exposure and uptake?

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Practicality In Complexity (reblogged)

Three points in this blog post by Nora Bateson resonate:

1. The idea of “catching the rhythm” of the “patterns of movement” in our constantly changing world.
2. More effectively taking context into account.
3. “We cannot know the systems, but we can know more. We cannot perfect the systems, but we can do better.”

The challenge is to develop methods and processes to better achieve these goals. (Reblogged by Gabriele Bammer)

Reinventing science? From open source to open science

By Alexey Voinov

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Alexey Voinov (biography)

Science is getting increasingly bureaucratized, more and more driven by metrics and indices, which have very little to do with the actual scientific content and recognition among peers. This is actively supported by the still dominant for-profit publication mechanism, which harvests products of scientific research for free, processes, reviews and edits them using voluntary work of scientists themselves and then sells the resulting papers back to the scientific community at obscene costs. The original ideals of scientific pursuit of truth for the sake of the betterment of humanity are diluted and forfeited in the exhausting race for grants, tenure, patents, citations and nominations. Something has to change, especially in the era of post-normal science when so much is at stake, and so little is actually done to address the mounting problems of the environment and society.

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Co-creation, co-design, co-production, co-construction: Same or different?

By Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

A key topic across disciplines is the authentic engagement and participation of key stakeholders in developing and guiding innovations to solve problems.  Complex systems consist of dense webs of relationships where individual stakeholders self-organize through interactions.  Research demonstrates that successful uptake of innovations requires genuine and meaningful interaction among researchers, service providers, policy makers, consumers, and other key stakeholders. Implementation efforts must address the various needs of these stakeholders.  However, these efforts are described differently across disciplines and contexts – co-design, co-production, co-creation, and co-construction.

Developing consensus on terminology and meanings will facilitate future research and application of “co” concepts. 

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Modelling is the language of scientific discovery

By Steven Gray

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Steven Gray (biography)

Modeling is the language of scientific discovery and has significant implications for how scientists communicate within and across disciplines. Whether modeling the social interactions of individuals within a community in anthropology, the trade-offs of foraging behaviors in ecology, or the influence of warming ocean temperatures on circulation patterns in oceanography, the ability to represent empirical or theoretical understanding through modeling provides scientists with a semi-standardized language to explain how we think the world works. In fact, modeling is such a basic part of human reasoning and communication that the formal practice of scientific modeling has been recently extended to include non-scientists, especially as a way to understand complex and poorly understood socio-environmental dynamics and to improve collaborative research.

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