Stakeholder engagement primer: 8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills for generating ideas and reaching agreement should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key methods and concepts should they be familiar with?

The focus in this blog post is on generating ideas and reaching agreement, as well as recognising the “groan zone” between these two phases in a group process. Researchers will have diverse attributes and not everyone will be well-placed to cultivate the skills described here. Having an understanding of the skills can help in choosing the researchers best placed to undertake the stakeholder engagement.

Generating ideas: Brainstorming

For brainstorming to work well, it requires rapid-fire contributions, no holding back or self-censoring of ideas, and no discussion or criticism of the ideas proposed.

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A tool for transforming resistance to insights in decision-making

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

Do you encounter resistance from your team members, especially in regard to difficult decisions? How might decision-making processes be better facilitated to generate insights instead of resistance?

I describe a conceptual framework and an accompanying practical tool from Lewis Deep Democracy (2021) that can transform resistance to insights in decision-making processes.

The conceptual framework: Understanding how decision making generates resistance

It is important first to understand the consciousness of a team. If you think of a team’s consciousness as an iceberg, the ideas and opinions that are expressed are the conscious part above the waterline, while those that are not expressed are the unconscious part below the waterline. If decisions are made based only on the team’s expressed ideas and opinions, those below the waterline will likely form resistance. This is often what happens with “majority rules” democracy.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 7. Listening and dialogue

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key tools for engaging stakeholders should they be familiar with?

In the next two blog posts, I present key skills and tools that are essential for engaging with stakeholders. Understanding these skills can help teams decide who would be best among their members to be responsible for stakeholder engagement. Those involved in stakeholder engagement can also work to strengthen these skills to underpin other useful methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups and participatory modelling.

This blog post presents skills involved in listening and dialogue. The next presents tools for generating ideas and reaching agreement.

Listening to understand

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How informal discussion groups can maintain long-term momentum

By Kitty Wooley

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Kitty Wooley (biography)

What does it take to motivate competent professionals to show up for mission-focused conversation on their own time? What is the result? How can interaction, knowledge exchange, and knowledge transfer be achieved when some participants are meeting for the first time – especially if they’re coming from different kinds of organizations and hierarchical levels?

In this blog post, I describe the experience of Senior Fellows and Friends, a group meeting for conversational events that has kept its momentum for 17 years, over 91 meetings, and become an organic engine of opportunity for new and midcareer leaders.

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Communicating across organizational boundaries

By Adrian Wolfberg

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Adrian Wolfberg (biography)

What do researchers, stakeholders and end-users need to know about organizational boundaries so that they can communicate effectively when collaborating to build and achieve common goals? What does it mean to communicate effectively? How is shared meaning acquired? Why is it so difficult?

Organizational boundaries are socially constructed distinctions created intentionally to foster specific patterns of behavior by one set of individuals that are different from other sets of individuals. They have a double-edged value: positive and negative. On the positive side, creating boundaries potentially allows us to focus, and thereby deepen and specialize knowledge and activity. The negative side is control, where management and/or culture inflexibility thwarts the agility needed for crossing boundaries.

Boundaries come in many forms.

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Responding to unacknowledged disciplinary differences with the Toolbox dialogue method

By Graham Hubbs, Michael O’Rourke, Steven Hecht Orzack

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1. Graham Hubbs (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)
3. Steven Hecht Orzack (biography)

Have you collaborated with people on a complex project and wondered why it is so difficult? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Do my collaborators even conceive of the project and its goals in the way I do?” Projects involving collaborators from different disciplines or professions seem almost ready made to generate this kind of bewilderment. Collaborators on cross-disciplinary projects like these often ask different kinds of questions and pursue different kinds of answers.

This confusion can bedevil cross-disciplinary research. The allure of such research is its promise of solving complex problems by bringing together a variety of perspectives that when combined lead to solutions that any one perspective would fail to find. But combining different disciplinary perspectives also requires undertaking the tasks of translating different technical languages, reconciling different methodological preferences, and coordinating different ways of carving up the world. These tasks are difficult and it’s no wonder that cross-disciplinary research often fails to be truly cross-disciplinary.

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Applying human-centered design to virtual conference planning

By Kristine Glauber, Ben Miller and Christine Ogilvie Hendren

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1. Kristine Glauber (biography)
2. Ben Miller (biography)
3. Christine Ogilvie Hendren (biography)

What is needed to envision and create a virtual conference at which attendees have direct agency in execution of customized, richly interactive sessions?

We share three guideposts from a human-centered design framework in recasting the 11th Annual International Science of Team Science Conference from a face-to-face to a virtual meeting after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Develop your design principle

Develop your goals for the meeting overall and each individual conference element.These can be referenced when making decisions about how to accomplish a particular task.

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Outbreaks, break-outs and break-times: Creating caring online workshops

By The Care Operative

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The Care Operative details

How can online workshops be productive, engaging, caring and fun? How can researchers creatively adapt to a ‘virtual normal’ and develop caring and co-operative ways of working?

In March 2020, we – 20 international sustainability science colleagues – were prohibited from meeting face-to-face by COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Yet, we had time blocked out and a detailed workshop schedule. Within 48 hours, with invaluable help from experienced facilitator Concepción Piñeiro, we shifted the workshop online, adapting for virtual collaboration.

Here, we share how we made our online workshop productive, engaging and caring. We share what we learned about contrasts with in-person meetings, and identify additional skills and habits for great online interaction in a more detailed report (The Care Operative 2020).

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Effectively including online participants in onsite meetings

By Participants in the SESYNC Theme “Building Resources for Complex, Action-Oriented Team Science”

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Author details

With increasing interest in online participation in workshops, meetings and classes, are there useful protocols to ensure that online participation is effective? Mixed onsite-online meetings are probably the hardest to manage well. How can you effectively include online participants, so that they don’t feel marginalized and ignored? How can you ensure that everyone has a chance to share their expertise and perspectives, and benefits fully from the meeting?

We draw on our experiences in four different interdisciplinary academic teams which held three-day meetings across wide time zones. We provide a protocol for effectively managing meetings rather than the necessary technical requirements, and welcome comments on the latter. Different technological set-ups will have different strengths and weaknesses, so some of our lessons will require modification depending on the exact circumstances. Many of our suggestions are also relevant to online only meetings.

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Theory U: A promising journey to embracing unknown unknowns

By Vanesa Weyrauch

author-venesa-weyrauch
Vanesa Weyrauch (biography)

How can we best live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world? How can we shift from a worldview that looks to predict and control what is to be done through plans and strategies to being present and flexible in order to respond effectively as unexpected changes take place? How can we be open to not knowing what will emerge and embrace uncertainty as the opportunity to co-create and learn?

One powerful and promising way forward is Theory U, a change methodology developed by Otto Scharmer and illustrated below. Scharmer introduced the concept of “presencing”—learning from the emerging future. The concept of “presencing” blends “sensing” (feeling the future possibility) and “presence” (the state of being in the present moment). It acknowledges that we don’t know the answers. Staying at the bottom of the U until the best potential future starts emerging requires embracing uncertainty as fertile soil.

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Using discomfort to prompt learning in collaborative teams

By Rebecca Freeth and Guido Caniglia

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1. Rebecca Freeth (biography)
2. Guido Caniglia (biography)

We know that reflecting can make a marked difference to the quality of our collective endeavour. However, in the daily busyness of inter- and trans- disciplinary research collaborations, time for reflection slides away from us as more immediate tasks jostle for attention. What would help us put into regular practice what we know in theory about prioritising time to reflect and learn?

Discomfort sometimes provides the necessary nudge in the ribs that reminds us to keep reflecting and learning. The discomfort of listening to the presentation of a colleague you like and respect, but having very little idea what they’re talking about. Or, worse, failing to see how their research will make a worthy contribution to the collective project. The discomfort when an intellectual debate with a colleague turns personal. The discomfort of watching project milestones loom, knowing you’re seriously behind schedule because others haven’t done what they said.

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Why model?

By Steven Lade

Steven Lade
Steven Lade (biography)

What do you think about mathematical modelling of ‘wicked’ or complex problems? Formal modelling, such as mathematical modelling or computational modelling, is sometimes seen as reductionist, prescriptive and misleading. Whether it actually is depends on why and how modelling is used.

Here I explore four main reasons for modelling, drawing on the work of Brugnach et al. (2008):

  • Prediction
  • Understanding
  • Exploration
  • Communication.

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