Complexity, diversity, modelling, power, trust, unknowns… Who is this blog for?

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

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

This is a blog for researchers who:

  • want better concepts and methods for understanding and acting on complex real-world problems – problems like refugee crises, global climate change, and inequality.
  • are intrigued by the messiness of how components of a problem interact, how context can be all-important and how power can stymie or facilitate action.
  • understand that complex problems do not have perfect solutions; instead that “best possible” or “least worst” solutions are more realistic aims.
  • enjoy wrangling with unknowns to better manage, or even head-off, unintended adverse consequences and unpleasant surprises.
  • are keen to look across the boundaries of their own expertise to see what concepts and methods are on offer from those with different academic backgrounds grappling with other kinds of problems.
  • want to join forces to build a community which freely shares concepts and methods for dealing with complex problems, so that these become a stronger part of the mainstream of academic research and education.

November saw this blog’s first anniversary and this 100th blog post reviews what we are aiming for and how we are tracking. Continue reading

Material resources for transdisciplinary research

Community member post by Chris Riedy

chris-riedy
Chris Riedy (biography)

What materials are needed to support the conduct of transdisciplinary research?

Transdisciplinary research is a bundle of interwoven social practices taking different forms in different contexts. As highlighted in one prominent version of social practice theory (Shove et al., 2012: 14), social practice has three elements:

  • Materials – ‘including things, technologies, tangible physical entities, and the stuff of which objects are made’
  • Competences – ‘which encompasses skill, know-how and technique’
  • Meanings – ‘in which we include symbolic meanings, ideas and aspirations’.

Continue reading

The ‘methods section’ in research publications on complex problems – Purpose

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

Do we need a protocol for documenting how research tackling complex social and environmental problems was undertaken?

Usually when I read descriptions of research addressing a problem such as poverty reduction or obesity prevention or mitigation of the environmental impact of a particular development, I find myself frustrated by the lack of information about what was actually done. Some processes may be dealt with in detail, but others are glossed over or ignored completely.

For example, often such research brings together insights from a range of disciplines, but details may be scant on why and how those disciplines were selected, whether and how they interacted and how their contributions to understanding the problem were combined. I am often left wondering about whose job it was to do the synthesis and how they did it: did they use specific methods and were these up to the task? And I am curious about how the researchers assessed their efforts at the end of the project: did they miss a key discipline? would a different perspective from one of the disciplines included have been more useful? did they know what to do with all the information generated? Continue reading

Eight institutional practices to support interdisciplinary research

Community member post by Margaret Palmer, Jonathan Kramer, James Boyd, and David Hawthorne

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Margaret Palmer (biography)

How can institutions help enhance interdisciplinary team success? We share eight practices we have developed at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) which was launched in 2011 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

jonathan-kramer
Jonathan Kramer (biography)

The center supports newly formed research teams from anywhere in the world to work collaboratively at its facility. The teams synthesize existing theories and data to advance understanding of socio-environmental systems and the ability to solve environmental problems. Continue reading

Designing applied research for impact

Community member post by Andrew Campbell

andrew-campbell
Andrew Campbell (biography)

How can we get the three critical groups in transdisciplinary research—researchers, end users of research, and funders of research—to work together in designing applied research for impact? As Roux and colleagues (2010) pointed out:

A key characteristic of transdisciplinary research is that the domains of science, management, planning, policy and practice are interactively involved in issue framing, knowledge production and knowledge application.”

A critical challenge is that each of the three groups is likely to have different perspectives on the goals of a given research project or program and how to achieve them, and therefore likely to define success differently. Continue reading

Do we need to discipline interdisciplinarity?

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

Imagine a team of researchers tackling global health inequalities, with a focus on sanitation. The team comprises epidemiologists and biostatisticians interested both in measuring the extent of the problem and designing intervention trials, engineers investigating a range of sanitation options, anthropologists examining the cultural aspects of sanitation, economists and political scientists documenting the economic benefits and looking for policy levers to assist in making change happen.
 
The team is working at national policy levels and with a range of target communities seeking to engender small business interest in promoting new sanitation options, as well as individual and community behaviour change. There is collaboration with major international donors and non-government organisations. The team has a talented and charismatic leader.

What the team does not have is access to the full array of theory and methods for synthesising the input of the different disciplines, along with all the relevant stakeholder knowledge. Nor does it have the ability to bring to bear all the different ways of teasing out and taking into account the knowledge gaps – the unknowns. Finally the team cannot tap into the wealth of information about how to provide effective integrated research support for policy and practice change.
Continue reading