Why awareness raising campaigns cannot fix structural problems

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Pei Shan Loo (biography)

By Pei Shan Loo

Why are awareness raising campaigns popular? Why can’t they fix structural problems? And how can system dynamics help?

Large amounts of funding for health, societal, environmental and other complex problems are channelled into “awareness raising” to build public recognition of the problem in the hope that understanding will lead to change and a lasting solution.

Why awareness raising campaigns are popular

There are at least four reasons why funding is spent on awareness raising campaigns:

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Five insights on achieving research impact

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1. Niki Ellis (biography)
2, Anne-Maree Dowd (biography)
3. Tamika Heiden (biography)
4, Gabriele Bammer (biography)

By Niki Ellis, Anne-Maree Dowd, Tamika Heiden and Gabriele Bammer

What does it take for research to be impactful? How should research impact be assessed? How much responsibility for impact should rest with researchers and how much with government, business and/or community partners?

We present five key insights based on our experience in achieving research impact in Australia:

  1. Planning for impact is essential
  2. Quality relationships trump all other factors
  3. Assessment of research contributions should be tailored to the type of research and based on team, not individual, performance
  4. Researchers alone cannot be responsible for achieving impact
  5. Be open to continual learning.

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Investing in change through research funding

By Petra Lundgren

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Petra Lundgren (biography)

How do funders think about investing in research that is intended to lead to change?

This blog post is written from the perspective of a research funder. More specifically it is based on reflections and lessons learned during five years managing and directing strategic research programs at a not-for-profit foundation, investing in science that would benefit the health and resilience of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Our funding mandate was to include research in a larger body of work towards a broader vision of change. This therefore provided the basis of my work and helped me shape the view that the funder has a big and critical role to play.

In the research that my organisation funded, it was important to both define and deliver impact beyond that of classic academic achievement.

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Three ways research perpetuates injustices

By Barış Bayram

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Barış Bayram (biography)

Why is it hard to recognise the full value of a new idea, research finding or other innovation? Why do people fail to properly appreciate other people or things most of the time? Can this help explain why injustices persist?

There is no “invisible hand” that allocates rewards according to capabilities or performance, including ensuring that academic research or social interactions are recognised in terms of scientific or ethical merits.

There are three main patterns causing what I call “unjust appreciation”:

  1. lack of intellectual development to determine values, merits and deserts (ie., just rewards)
  2. cognitive biases and social biases, especially related to status and groups
  3. tribalism, along with power and conflict considerations that rely on cost-benefit analysis.

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The art of non-decision-making

By Anthony Judge

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Anthony Judge (biography)

Do you get frustrated when decision-makers avoid doing their jobs? Do you wish you could identify the techniques they use to avoid making decisions so that you can better hold them to account?

Here I identify 14 aspects of the art of non-decision-making based on my experience serving in, and observing, a range of international organisations.

1. Definitional games: This is the process of defining categories in one way in one document or organizational unit, and then defining them in another way elsewhere or at some later time. The art is to use this approach to obscure opportunities or to selectively advance particular strategies. At the same time competing definitions may be used to justify apparently incompatible strategies.

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Visions of knowledge systems for life on Earth and how to get there

By Niko Schäpke and Ioan Fazey

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1. Niko Schäpke (biography)
2. Ioan Fazey (biography)

How should formalized knowledge systems, including universities, research institutes and education, transform to keep pace with wider and inevitable societal transformations associated with accelerating global change? What kinds of changes are needed in these knowledge systems and how can they be encouraged?

These questions were explored by participants of the Transformations 2017 conference and in subsequent research (Fazey et al., 2020). This included highlighting current challenges, envisioning future systems and the policy and actions required for the transition. These are summarized in the figure below.

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Can foresight and complexity play together?

By James E. Burke

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James E. Burke (biography)

What is foresight and how does it differ from prediction? What role can complexity play in foresight? Does Cynefin® offer a possible framework to begin integrating foresight and complexity?

In this blog post, I describe how:

  • Foresight identifies clues for the future and integrates them into forecasts
  • Complexity theory offers ways to understand how the future emerges
  • Cynefin® gives us a framework of domains that allows us to better understand trends and forecasts.

What is foresight?

Foresight starts from a place of humility—we cannot predict the future—and an acceptance of ambiguity.

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Three complexity principles for convergence research

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can principles adapted from complexity thinking be applied to convergence research? How can such principles help integrate knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines to form novel frameworks that catalyze scientific discovery and innovation?

I present three principles from the complexity paradigm that are highly relevant to convergence research. I then describe three types of transformative containers that I have developed to create enabling conditions for applying complexity principles to convergence.

1. Ecosystem consciousness: An inversion of perspectives

Ecosystem consciousness is necessary because in complex systems the whole (ecosystem) is bigger than the sum of its parts; the wellbeing of the whole and the parts are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

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Why we need strengths-based approaches to achieve social justice

By Katie Thurber

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Katie Thurber (biography)

Achieving social justice by overcoming social inequality is a burning complex problem. In research which aims to contribute to achieving social justice, what does it mean to move from a deficit discourse to a strengths-based approach? How does such a change impact on the understanding of social inequality, as well as on actions taken to overcome it?

I am part of a group researching Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and we have been grappling with these questions. The issues are also more broadly relevant.

What is a deficit discourse?

A deficit discourse focuses on problems. A common example is the comparison of the group of interest to another social group that has better outcomes. The focus may be on the size of the gap between the groups.

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How can we amplify impact to foster transformative change?

By David P. M. Lam

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David P. M. Lam (biography)

How can the impact of sustainability and other initiatives be scaled or amplified to achieve transformative change?

There are hundreds of promising sustainability initiatives emerging around the world. A sustainability initiative is, for example, a local food initiative from citizens and farmers who promote healthy and organic food production and consumption. Another example is the installation of solar panels by a community to support the use of renewable energies. Such initiatives provide potential solutions for urgent sustainability problems, for instance, biodiversity loss, climate change, social injustice, and poverty in rural areas or cities.

This blog post is based on a review of the literature to understand how sustainability transformations research is currently conceptualizing the scaling or amplifying of impact from initiatives. Although our focus was on sustainability, the processes are likely to also be pertinent for other initiatives.

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Researcher activism: A voice of experience

By Dorothy Broom

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Dorothy Broom (biography)

In reflecting on my researcher-activist role in women’s health, I’ve come up with six tips that may provide guidance to those embarking on such a role. The lessons I draw can also be relevant in other fields of endeavour, in population health, environmental research and beyond.

Tip 1: Build your legitimacy with those you are aiming to influence and those you are advocating for

My academic research in the 1980s and 90s on the politics of women’s health was distinct from my feminist political activism. Prompted by intellectual curiosity, I developed a research profile that fortuitously prepared me to take on an advocacy role at a time of major policy foment.

My publications and conference presentations gave me legitimacy with public servants charged with policy and program development; while my personal involvement in feminist social action gave me a different kind of credibility with social-movement actors.

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Choosing a suitable transdisciplinary research framework

By Gabriele Bammer

Author - Gabriele Bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are some of the key frameworks that can be used for transdisciplinary research? What are their particular strengths? How can you choose one that’s most suitable for your transdisciplinary project?

The nine frameworks described here were highlighted in a series for which I was the commissioning editor. The series was published in the scientific journal GAIA: Ecological Perspectives in Science and Society between mid-2017 and end-2019.

Choosing among them is not a matter of right or wrong, but of each being more or less helpful for a particular problem in a particular context.

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