Do we need diversity science?

By Katrin Prager

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Katrin Prager (biography)

Where do the benefits of diverse teams come from and how can those benefits be unlocked? What are the pitfalls to watch out for in constructing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts?

To boost innovation and creativity in teams I suggest we need to develop diversity science, which has 5 elements:

  1. identifying the right kind of diversity
  2. avoiding homophily
  3. avoiding dominance hierarchies
  4. fostering appropriate leadership
  5. building and protecting trust.

Let’s unpack each of these elements.

Read moreDo we need diversity science?

Addressing societal challenges: From interdisciplinarity to research portfolios analysis

By Ismael Rafols

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Ismael Rafols (biography)

How can knowledge integration for addressing societal challenges be mapped, ‘measured’ and assessed?

In this blog post I argue that measuring averages or aggregates of ‘interdisciplinarity’ is not sufficiently focused for evaluating research aimed at societal contributions. Instead, one should take a portfolio approach to analyze knowledge integration as a systemic process over research landscapes; in particular, focusing on the directions, diversity and synergies of research trajectories.

There are two main reasons:

1. since knowledge integration for societal challenges is a systemic and dynamic process, we need broad and plural perspectives and therefore we should use a battery of analytical tools, as developed for example in research portfolio analysis, rather than a narrow focus on interdisciplinarity.

Read moreAddressing societal challenges: From interdisciplinarity to research portfolios analysis

Three types of knowledge

By Tobias Buser and Flurina Schneider

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1. Tobias Buser (biography)
2. Flurina Schneider (biography)

When addressing societal challenges, how can researchers orient their thinking to produce not only knowledge on problems, but also knowledge that helps to overcome those problems?

The concept of ‘three types of knowledge’ is helpful for structuring project goals, formulating research questions and developing action plans. The concept first appeared in the 1990s and has developed into a core underpinning of transdisciplinary research.

The three types of knowledge, illustrated in the first figure below, are:

1. Systems knowledge, which is usually defined as knowledge about the current system or problem situation. It is mainly analytical and descriptive. For example, if you think of water scarcity, systems knowledge refers to producing a holistic understanding of the relevant socio-ecological system, including aspects like water availability, water uses, water management, justice questions, and their interrelations.

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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.

Read moreThree complexity principles for convergence research

Four lessons for operating in a different cultural environment

By Nithya Ramachandran

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Nithya Ramachandran (biography)

What does it take to operate successfully in a university located in a different culture?

I am an Indian academician working in the Middle-East, specifically in the Sultanate of Oman and share four lessons about teaching and working in a different cultural context. Although the specifics will vary depending on the culture, the general lessons are likely to be more widely applicable.

The four general lessons are:

  1. Make the most of mentoring
  2. Be open and responsive to feedback
  3. Reinforce positive aspects of student behaviours and find ways to counteract the negative
  4. Enjoy the diversity.

Read moreFour lessons for operating in a different cultural environment

Interdisciplinary competencies and innovation

By Colleen Knechtel

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Colleen Knechtel (biography)

What interdisciplinary competencies are required for innovation? How can such interdisciplinary competencies be implemented to foster innovation?

Keys to stimulating innovation are cultivating interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration to enhance collective creativity, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Integrating such diverse knowledge and skills is key to innovation.

Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies

1. Recognizing prior knowledge and skills

Read moreInterdisciplinary competencies and innovation

Navigating paradoxical tensions through both/and thinking

By Faye Miller

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Faye Miller (biography)

How can the many paradoxical tensions that arise in transdisciplinary projects be effectively navigated?

My recent research into how to produce shared understanding for digital and social innovation identifies three key tenets for navigating paradoxes as an emerging transdisciplinary method:

  1. Identifying paradoxical tensions;
  2. Moving from either/or to both/and thinking; and
  3. Working through paradoxes to workable certainty or negotiated understanding.

Identifying paradoxical tensions

A paradox involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements that exist simultaneously, which morph, shift and persist over time. Increasing our focus on paradoxes fosters the development of creative and innovative mindsets encouraging transdisciplinary researchers to employ both logic and intuition in their approaches.

Read moreNavigating paradoxical tensions through both/and thinking

The “ABC’s” of interdisciplinarity

By Stephen M. Fiore

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Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

What are the attitudinal, behavioral, and cognitive issues that influence interdisciplinary collaborations?

The illustrations I provide here are based upon 20 years of experience working in research environments with scholars ranging from philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists, to historians, economists, and ecologists, to psychologists, computer scientists, and neuroscientists. This experience has helped to illuminate what creates challenges during interdisciplinary interactions and what also can contribute to effective collaborations and help scholars learn from each other.

Attitudinal issues

Often times interaction is stifled when collaborators maintain some form of disciplinary disdain. The characteristics of disciplinary disdain include lack of respect or a form of contempt for another disciplinary approach, or condescension toward another discipline. An example is the view basic researchers sometimes show for applied research.

Read moreThe “ABC’s” of interdisciplinarity

Six lessons from students about transdisciplinary learning

By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch

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1. Irina Dallo (biography)
2. Jan Freihardt (biography)
3. Juanita von Rothkirch (biography)

What is an effective way of providing students with practical experience in stakeholder engagement? How can students learn to communicate and engage with community members on a transdisciplinary project, as well as how to create a space for those community members to reflect on their daily lives through interactions and discussions with the student outsiders? What makes it possible for students to broaden their horizons and to acquire new competences and skills?

We present our reflections on how the Winter School 2020 “Science meets Practice” run by ETH Zürich successfully contributed to our transdisciplinary learning process. We suggest there are six key lessons for those who want to design a successful course.

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Valuing diversity: The good, the original and the outsider

By Frédéric Darbellay

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Frédéric Darbellay (biography)

Stay in the norm, transform it or transgress it? If many researchers and teachers are comfortable in their disciplinary fold and providing good and loyal service to a well-defined epistemic community, more atypical profiles are also emerging, contributing to inter- and trans- disciplinary diversity.

I explore three complementary figures likely to cover the spectrum going from a good and respectable disciplinary worker (the Good) to the more disturbing figure of the Outsider, with the Original in between.

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Ten insights on the interplay between evidence and policy

By Kat Smith and Paul Cairney

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1. Kat Smith (biography)
2. Paul Cairney (biography)

How can we improve the way we think about the relationship between evidence and policy? What are the key insights that existing research provides?

1. Evidence does not tell us what to do

It helps reduce uncertainty, but does not tell us how we should interpret problems or what to do about them.

2. There is no such thing as ‘the evidence’

Instead, there is a large number of researchers with different backgrounds, making different assumptions, asking different questions, using different methods, and addressing different problems.

Read moreTen insights on the interplay between evidence and policy

A heuristic framework for reflecting on joint problem framing

By BinBin Pearce and Olivier Ejderyan

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1. BinBin Pearce (biography)
2. Olivier Ejderyan (biography)

What is joint problem framing? What are the key issues that joint problem framing has to address? How can joint problem framing be improved?

What is joint problem framing?

A key aspect of tackling complex problems is effectively bringing together differing points of view. These points of view are what Craik (1943) refers to as “small-scale models” of the problem situation. These are mental models formed from each individual’s experiences, interests, knowledge and environment. These mental models then set the boundaries for what problem definitions and solutions are possible and relevant to consider.

Read moreA heuristic framework for reflecting on joint problem framing