Systems thinking in public policy: Making space to think differently

By Catherine Hobbs

catherine-hobbs_2021
Catherine Hobbs (biography)

Why does public policy go wrong? How can researchers who are systems thinkers begin to create the conditions in which those involved in public policy may flourish within their possible spheres of ‘horizontal’ influence?

The public policy context and why it goes wrong

Jake Chapman’s System Failure: Why Governments Must Learn to Think Differently (2002; 2004) remains a much-quoted report. In his second (2004) edition, however, Chapman reflects that, despite an enthusiastic reception, there had been “very little substantive shift in either policy or management styles within government” (2004: p.10). Chapman identified a number of difficulties, including:

Read more

Pause… How art and literature can transform transdisciplinary research

By Jane Palmer and Dena Fam

authors_jane-palmer_dena-fam
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.

Read more

Advancing considerations of affect in interdisciplinary collaborations

By Mareike Smolka, Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein

authors_mareike-smolka_erik-fisher_alexandra-hausstein
1. Mareike Smolka (biography)
2. Erik Fisher (biography)
2. Alexandra Hausstein’s biography

Have you ever had a fleeting impression of seeing certainty disrupted, the impulse to laugh when your expectations were broken, or a startling sense of something being both familiar and foreign at the same time?

As social scientists engaged in collaborative studies with natural scientists and engineers, we have had these experiences repeatedly while doing research.

Read more

Three lessons for community engagement in international research

By Aysha Fleming

aysha-fleming
Aysha Fleming (biography)

What’s required for researchers to effectively engage with local communities in international research tackling complex socio-ecological problems?

In a project involving Indonesian and Australian researchers working with local communities to restore peatlands in Indonesia, we identified three key elements for international collaboration with stakeholders:

  1. project design
  2. individual and collective skills and competencies
  3. processes to support knowledge integration.

Project design

Read more

A process for generating new cross-disciplinary projects

By Gemma Jiang

author_gemma-jiang
Gemma Jiang (biography)

What is a good way for researchers in large cross-disciplinary science initiatives, who may not know each other well, to generate viable project ideas?

This blog post introduces a field-tested “double helix” process that leverages the benefits of idea generation by a large group and idea refinement in small groups.

This double helix process is most helpful in large cross-disciplinary science initiatives that meet at least one of the following three characteristics:

  • Tackling wicked problems with both scientific and societal significance
  • Requiring deep integration across multiple disciplines that will eventually lead to new meta-disciplines
  • Consisting of more than 20 core research members.

Read more

Facilitating narratives for knowledge co-production: A knowledge broker’s role

By Faye Miller and Jess Melbourne-Thomas

authors_faye-miller_jess-melbourne-thomas
1. Faye Miller (biography)
2. Jess Melbourne-Thomas (biography)

How can knowledge brokers facilitate transdisciplinary knowledge co-production and mobilisation? How can a narrative approach contribute to the knowledge co-creation process?

A knowledge broker often sits between different stakeholders (researchers, end-users, policymakers) to facilitate knowledge co-creation and knowledge mobilisation. Their main role is to make evidence accessible, understandable and useful for knowledge users. As knowledge mobilisation is usually experienced by participants as a personal and social activity, a key starting point for facilitating knowledge co-production with different stakeholders is to develop a narrative approach.

Read more

Stakeholder engagement primer: 8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement

By Gabriele Bammer

primer_stakeholder-engagement_8

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. It often involves a group of stakeholders (or stakeholders and researchers) sitting around a flipchart or whiteboard, with one person writing down the ideas as members of the group say them.

Read more

A tool for transforming resistance to insights in decision-making

By Gemma Jiang

author_gemma-jiang
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.

Read more

Stakeholder engagement primer: 7. Listening and dialogue

By Gabriele Bammer

primer_stakeholder-engagement_7

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

Read more

How informal discussion groups can maintain long-term momentum

By Kitty Wooley

kitty-wooley
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.

Read more

Communicating across organizational boundaries

By Adrian Wolfberg

adrian-wolfberg
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.

Read more

Responding to unacknowledged disciplinary differences with the Toolbox dialogue method

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

authors_graham-hubbs_michael-orourke_steven-hecht-orzack
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.

Read more