Modeling as empowerment

By Laura Schmitt Olabisi

schmitt-olabisi
Laura Schmitt Olabisi (biography)

Who can make systems change? The challenges of complexity are intensely felt by those who are trying to make strategic interventions in coupled human-environmental systems in order to fulfill personal, societal, or institutional goals. The activists, leaders, and decision-makers I work with often feel overwhelmed by trying to deal with multiple problems at once, with limited time, resources, and attention. We need tools to help leaders cut through the complexity so that they can identify the most effective strategies to make change.

This is where participatory system dynamics modelers like myself come in.

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Transdisciplinarity: Learning together to teach together

By BinBin Pearce, Carolina Adler and Christian Pohl

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BinBin Pearce (biography)

Are there innovative methods that enable students to frame and confront the complexity of real-world problems in the context of sustainable development? Which learning approaches help students engage with design thinking to understand a particular system, and also to start thinking about responsible solutions? Which approaches enable students to reflect on their own actions, as well as become aware of the importance of diverse stakeholder perspectives and how these play out in real-world contexts?

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Should water scientists be advocates?

By Patricia Gober

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Patricia Gober (biography)

Efforts to improve the use of models to support policy and practice on water resources issues have increased awareness of the role of advocacy and public engagement in the modeling process. Hydrologists have much to learn from the recent experience of climate scientists who have discovered that scientific knowledge is not independent of the political context in which it is used but rather is co-produced by scientists and society.

Despite a strong consensus among climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 report that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” approximately one-third of the USA’s population still does not believe that global temperatures have risen over the past 100 years and does not trust the things that scientists say about the environment.

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Looking over the horizon for team effectiveness

By Stephen M. Fiore

Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

How can we better understand how to improve team effectiveness, as well as help society more broadly? In the last decade, there has been a great deal of growth of interdisciplinary research on teams, thanks to organizations like the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research and the developing field of the Science of Team Science.

New areas

The study of teams has long been making important contributions to business organizations, the military, and healthcare and is now branching out to scientific research teams, cyber security teams, and even spaceflight teams. Each of these domains is of significant societal relevance for the 21st century. They represent important topics for what is called use-inspired basic science.

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La modélisation participative, un lieu privilégié pour l’interdisciplinarité? / Participatory modeling: An ideal place for interdisciplinarity?

By Pierre Bommel

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Pierre Bommel (biography)

An English version of this post is available

La modélisation participative cherche à impliquer un groupe de personnes dans la conception et la révision d’un modèle. L’objectif à terme consiste à mieux caractériser les problèmes actuels et imaginer collectivement comment tenter de les résoudre. Dans le domaine de l’environnement en particulier, il apparaît nécessaire que les acteurs concernés se sentent impliqués dans la démarche de modélisation, afin qu’ils puissent exprimer leurs propres points de vue, mais aussi pour mieux s’engager dans des décisions collectives. De ce fait, pour aborder la gestion intégrée des ressources, il est nécessaire de mettre les acteurs au centre des préoccupations de recherche, à la fois lors de la phase la conception du modèle mais aussi pour l’exploration de ces scénarios.

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Should researchers be honest brokers or advocates?

By John Callewaert

callewaert
John Callewaert (biography)

When to advocate and when to be an honest broker is a question that deserves serious attention by those working on collaborative and engaged research initiatives. In my role as the Integrated Assessment director at the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute I facilitate a wide array of collaborative research efforts. For most of our initiatives we strive to work within an honest broker frame. Following the work of Pielke (2007), the honest broker engages in decision-making by clarifying and sometimes expanding the scope of choice to decision-makers. Our recent analysis of options for High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan[1] (fracking) and outlining sustainability goals for our Ann Arbor campus[2] are two examples which involved teams of faculty, students, practitioners and decision-makers.

The honest broker approach was particularly important for the project on fracking given the polarized views that can sometimes be associated with this topic.

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Towards an evaluation framework for participatory modeling

By Miles McNall

miles-mcnall
Miles McNall (biography)

What are the results of participatory modeling efforts? What contextual factors, resources and processes contribute to these results? Answering such questions requires the systematic and ongoing evaluation of processes, outputs and outcomes. At present participatory modeling lacks a framework to guide such evaluation efforts. In this post I offer some initial thoughts on the features of this framework.

A first step in developing an evaluation framework for participatory modeling is to establish criteria for processes, outputs, and outcomes. Such criteria would answer a basic question about what it means when we say that a participatory modeling process, output, or outcome is good, worthy, or meritorious.

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Research impact: Six kinds of change

By Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What kinds of change can implementation of research findings contribute to? Sometimes the aim is to make change happen, while at other times research implementation is in response to particular proposed or ongoing change.

Making change happen

Two ways of making change happen that are important for research impact are: 1) contributing to the on-going quest for improvement and 2) combatting practices or behaviours that have negative outcomes for individuals or society.

Examples of contributing to the quest for ongoing improvement include technological research such as invention of thinner lenses to revolutionise cameras and social research such as development and implementation of a disability insurance scheme.

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Moving from models that synthesize to models that innovate

By Pete Loucks

p-loucks
Pete Loucks (biography)

When computer technology became available for developing and using graphics interfaces for interactive decision support systems, some of us got excited about the potential of directly involving stakeholders in the modeling and analyses of various water resource systems. Many of us believed that generating pictures that could show the impact of various design and management decisions or assumptions any user might want to make would give them a better understanding of the system being modeled and how they might improve its performance.

We even got fancy with respect performing sensitivity analyses and displaying uncertainty. Our displays were clear, understandable, and colorful. Sometimes we witnessed users even believing what they were seeing.

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The knowledge practice paradox

By Robert Duiveman

Robert Duiveman (biography)

Both researchers and politicians frequently claim that the interactions between science and public policy need reform and improvement: an agenda actualized by people all over the world by engaging in new collaborative knowledge practices. But a closer relationship doesn’t necessarily equal a better one; it depends on the design of the collaboration as well as the choices made along the way.

Given the societal and scientific importance attached to new knowledge practices, there is a striking lack of insight into what is actually done within them. There seems to be what I label a knowledge practice paradox.

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Facilitating participatory modeling

By Rebecca Jordan

Rebecca Jordan (biography)

Facilitate: “To help (something) run more smoothly and effectively” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

Like many practices in life, there is an art and a science to facilitation.  Certainly, best practices in facilitating processes within participatory modeling mirror many of those practices highlighted in guides to other participatory approaches.  It is of critical importance that the expectations around the word “effective”, as taken from the definition above, are identified and negotiated. How can an individual or team of individuals help the process if expectations are unmatched?

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Working together for better outcomes: Lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners

By Kit Macleod

kit-macleod
Kit Macleod (biography)

As a community of interdisciplinary practice we need to share our collective knowledge on how funders, researchers and wider research partners can work together for better outcomes to address pressing societal challenges.

Funding interdisciplinary research: improving practices and processes

Seven key challenges to funding interdisciplinary research include:

  1. No agreed criteria defining ‘excellence’ in interdisciplinary research.
  2. Poor agreement of the benefits and costs of interdisciplinary ways of working.
  3. No agreement on how much or what kind of additional funding support is required for interdisciplinary research.
  4. No consensus on terminology.
  5. No clearly delineated college of peers from which to select appropriate reviewers.
  6. Limited appropriate interdisciplinary peer review processes.
  7. Restrictions within funding organisations concerning budget allocations and support for interdisciplinary research.

A guidance note for research funders then suggests ways forward from the pre-call stage to evaluation of completed research projects.

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