Managing complexity with human learning systems

By Toby Lowe

toby-lowe
Toby Lowe (biography)

How can those in public service – be they researchers, policy makers or workers in government agencies, private businesses managers, or voluntary and community organisation leaders – think more effectively about improving people’s lives, when they understand that each person’s life is a unique complex system?

A good starting point is understanding that real outcomes in people’s lives aren’t “delivered” by organisations (or by projects, partnerships or programmes, etc). Outcomes are created by the hundreds of different factors in the unique complex system that is each person’s life.

In other words, an outcome is the product of hundreds of different people, organisations, and factors in the world all coming together in a unique and ever-changing combination in a particular person’s life. Very little of what influences the outcome is under the control or influence of those who undertake public service.

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Creative destruction

By Keith McCandless

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Keith McCandless (biography)

My favorite part of working with groups is helping people notice and stop counterproductive behavior. We all have self-limiting individual and group behaviors. Of course, they are easier to spot in others than in ourselves. So, finding seriously fun ways to help people discover for themselves what they can stop doing is important.

I use an activity called TRIZ from Liberating Structures. The purpose of TRIZ is to:

  • Make it possible to speak the unspeakable and get skeletons out of the closet
  • Make space for innovation
  • Lay the ground for creative destruction by doing the hard work in a fun way
  • TRIZ may be used before or in place of visioning sessions
  • Build trust by acting all together to remove barriers.

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Adaptive skilling

By Seema Purushothaman

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Seema Purushothaman (biography)

How can tribal societies forge a healthy equilibrium wherein short-term gains in livelihoods can be achieved without permanent loss in quality and security of tribal life? Are there lessons beyond the developmental journeys of the marginalised to how societies can craft informed, deliberative and adaptive mechanisms to generate blended knowledge that links diverse systems of learning and practice?

We suggest that the answer lies in adaptive skilling (Purushothaman et al., 2022).

What is adaptive skilling?

The process of adaptive skilling is more than mere avoidance of deskilling or just ensuring the continuity of individual and social learning.

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Pause… How art and literature can transform transdisciplinary research

By Jane Palmer and Dena Fam

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1. Jane Palmer (biography)
2. Dena Fam (biography)

What might make us stop and think differently about the ways in which we interact with our environment and others, human and nonhuman? What kind of knowing about acute threats to the natural environment will sufficiently motivate action?

We suggest that art and literature can offer us a pause in which we might, firstly, imagine other less anthropocentric ways of being in the world, and secondly, a way into Basarab Nicolescu’s “zone of non-resistance” (2014, p. 192), where we become truly open to new transdisciplinary forms of collaboration.

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Analysing key policy actors with the alignment, interest and influence matrix (AIIM)

By Enrique Mendizabal

enrique-mendizabal
Enrique Mendizabal (biography)

How can researchers seeking to change a policy get a useful picture of the key actors involved in that policy space? Who should they partner with? Who will need convincing? Whose arguments will counter their own?

The Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM) was designed to address these questions.

The AIIM tool is useful as far as it can encourage an open and thoughtful conversation. In my experience, the tool is most useful when the people involved provide a breadth of experience and insight into the policy process that they are trying to affect.

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Integrating context, formats and effects in transdisciplinary research

By tdAcademy 2021 GAIA paper authors

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Author biographies

What are the key aspects of transdisciplinary research and how can they be integrated effectively?

Four key aspects of transdisciplinary research are:

  • context dependencies
  • innovative formats
  • societal effects
  • scientific effects.

These are illustrated in the figure below, along with a summary of an ‘ideal’ transdisciplinary research process.

1. Context dependencies

Context dependencies are the factors that influence both the research design and the interpretation of results and include:

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A collaborative vision and pathways for transforming academia

By The Care Operative and “Transforming Academia” workshop participants at 2021 International Transdisciplinarity Conference

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Author biographies

What do we want academia to be like in 2050? Is academia on the right track? What will it take to agree on and realize a joint vision that can steer life in science towards a more sustainable and agreeable place to work, to learn, to share and to appreciate knowledge?

The issues raised here are based on a workshop with more than 40 participants at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2021. The discussion was initiated and hosted by the Careoperative, a leadership collective motivated to explore, embody and pollinate transformational sustainability and transdisciplinary research.

Careoperative’s discussion springboard

As a starting point for the discussion, Careoperative members shared ideas on how the current academic system discourages the kinds of leadership required for sustainability transformations (Care et al. 2021).

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Can cultural hegemony explain resistance to transdisciplinarity?

By Livia Fritz, Ulli Vilsmaier and Dena Fam

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1. Livia Fritz (biography)
2. Ulli Vilsmaier (biography)
2. Dena Fam (biography)

What are the reasons for resistance to transdisciplinary research and education? And what insights can Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist party in the early 20th Century, offer?

We argue that one of the main reasons for resistance is that transdisciplinarity subverts well-established and often unquestioned structures, practices and values in academia. In particular, transdisciplinarity challenges persistent organizational structures, mechanisms of knowledge production and evaluation criteria based on disciplinary models of research and higher education.

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Eleven success factors for transdisciplinary real-world labs

By Niko Schäpke, Oskar Marg, Matthias Bergmann, Franziska Stelzer and Daniel J. Lang

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1. Niko Schäpke; 2. Oskar Marg; 3. Matthias Bergmann; 4. Franziska Stelzer; 5. Daniel Lang (biographies)

What is required for transdisciplinary real-world laboratories (labs) to successfully tackle and achieve long-term societal change? How can they make the change process transferable? What is required of the societal and scientific actors?

We discuss eleven success factors to facilitate successful transdisciplinary collaboration and to achieve desired societal effects. These are based on an accompanying research project, which supported and observed several real-world labs, aiming to develop overarching insights on methods and success factors.

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Overcoming the mismatch between goals and outcomes in knowledge exchange

By Denis Karcher and Chris Cvitanovic

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1. Denis Karcher (biography)
2. Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

How well do researchers achieve the research impacts they aim for? And if there is a mismatch, does it matter?

Together with colleagues (Karcher et al., 2021), we systematically searched for and reviewed nearly 400 studies that described goals and outcomes that were claimed for knowledge exchange at the science-policy interface. Although our focus was on the environmental sciences, the results may be more widely useful.

Big ambitions

The eight top goals that studies described for their knowledge exchange activities were:

1. Usability, eg., that the interaction with policy makers and/or the knowledge created were credible, legitimate, relevant, and timely (458 references).

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A quick guide to post-normal science

By Silvio Funtowicz

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Silvio Funtowicz (biography)

Post-normal science comes into play for decision-making on policy issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.

A good example of a problem requiring post-normal science is the actions that need to be taken to mitigate the effects of sea level rise consequent on global climate change. All the causal elements are uncertain in the extreme, at stake is much of the built environment and the settlement patterns of people, what to save and what to sacrifice is in dispute, and the window for decision-making is shrinking. The COVID-19 pandemic is another instance of a post-normal science problem. The behaviour of the current and emerging variants of the virus is uncertain, the values of socially intrusive remedies are in dispute, and obviously stakes are high and decisions urgent.

In such contexts of policy making, normal science (in the Kuhnian sense, see Kuhn 1962) is still necessary, but no longer sufficient.

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Boosting the transformative power of transdisciplinarity with quantum theory

By Cyrille Rigolot

cyrille-rigolot
Cyrille Rigolot (biography)

How can transdisciplinarity improve its ability to foster very deep, very fast and very large transformations toward sustainability?

Quantum theory might be a major source of insights in that direction. Although quantum theory is not new to transdisciplinarity, lately it has become much more accessible, practical, and potentially transformative on the ground.

Quantum theory for transdisciplinarity research

In the debates last century about the emerging transdisciplinary research field, quantum theory inspired theorist Basarab Nicolescu to develop three basic ‘axioms’, which he argues should be recognized at the core of transdisciplinarity research, namely:

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