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. The accompanying research project also provided consultancy to strengthen the implementation activities of the real-world labs and supported the networking of the labs, including with labs in other countries.

The factors presented below should be seen as generic recommendations to increase the likelihood of success. As each lab has a unique character, factors should be considered, deliberated and addressed for each lab on an individual basis.

Success factor 1: Find the right balance between scientific and societal goals

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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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Stakeholder engagement primer: 9. Evaluating engagement

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement be judged? How can the outcomes be assessed? How much effort should go into such evaluation?

How and when to evaluate

In any stakeholder engagement there is no shortage of aspects that could be evaluated. The challenge is aligning the audience for the evaluation, the key issues to be assessed and the available resources.

For example, if a research team is interested in learning from what went wrong in a stakeholder engagement (for instance, if a stakeholder stopped participating or became hostile) and has no money set aside for evaluation, it might rely on self-reflection and anecdotal evidence to figure out what happened.

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A tool for transdisciplinary research planning and evaluation

By Brian Belcher, Rachel Claus, Rachel Davel, Stephanie Jones and Daniela Pinto

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1. Brian Belcher; 2. Rachel Claus; 3. Rachel Davel; 4. Stephanie Jones; 5. Daniela Pinto (biographies)

What are the characteristics of high-quality transdisciplinary research? As research approaches increasingly cross disciplinary bounds and engage stakeholders in the research process to more effectively address complex problems, traditional academic research assessment criteria are insufficient and may even constrain transdisciplinary research development and use. There is a need for appropriate principles and criteria to guide transdisciplinary research practice and evaluation.

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Theory of Change in a nutshell

By Heléne Clark

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Heléne Clark (biography)

How can you plan to make change happen or evaluate the effectiveness of actions you took? How can you link desired long-term goals with all the conditions that must be in place? How can you map out a step-by-step pathway that highlights your assumptions and expectations?

Theory of Change (ToC) is a graphic and narrative explanation of how and why a change process is expected to happen in a particular context.

At its heart, Theory of Change spells out initiative or program logic. It defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify changes thought to be necessary to the goal that need to happen earlier (preconditions).

Theory of Change purports to explain change process in diagrammatically modeling all the causal linkages in an initiative, ie., its shorter-term, intermediate, and longer-term outcomes.

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Considerations for choosing frameworks to assess research impact

By Elena Louder, Carina Wyborn, Christopher Cvitanovic and Angela T. Bednarek

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1. Elena Louder (biography)
2. Carina Wyborn (biography)
3. Christopher Cvitanovic (biography)
4. Angela Bednarek (biography)

What should you take into account in selecting among the many frameworks for evaluating research impact?

In our recent paper (Louder et al., 2021) we examined the epistemological foundations and assumptions of several frameworks and drew out their similarities and differences to help improve the evaluation of research impact. In doing so we identified four key principles or ‘rules of thumb’ to help guide the selection of an evaluation framework for application within a specific context.

1. Be clear about underlying assumptions of knowledge production and definitions of impact

Clarifying from the start how research activities are intended to achieve impact is an important pre-cursor to designing an evaluation. Furthermore, defining what you mean by impact is an important first step in selecting indicators to know if you’ve achieved it.

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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:

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‘Measuring’ interdisciplinarity: from indicators to indicating

By Ismael Rafols

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Ismael Rafols (biography)

Indicators of interdisciplinarity are increasingly requested. Yet efforts to make aggregate indicators have repeatedly failed due to the diversity and ambiguity of understandings of the notion of interdisciplinarity. What if, instead of universal indicators, a contextualised process of indicating interdisciplinarity was used?

In this blog post I briefly explore the failure of attempts to identify universal indicators and the importance of moving from indicatORS to indicatING. By this I mean: An assessment of specific interdisciplinary projects or programs for indicating where and how interdisciplinarity develops as a process, given the particular understandings relevant for the specific policy goals.

This reflects the notion of directionality in research and innovation, which is gaining hold in policy.

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Acknowledging and responding to criticisms of interdisciplinarity / Reconnaître et répondre aux critiques de l’interdisciplinarité

By Romain Sauzet

A French version of this post is available

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Romain Sauzet (biography)

What are the core arguments that critics of interdisciplinarity employ? Which of these criticisms can help to clarify what interdisciplinarity is and what it isn’t?

While some of the criticisms of interdisciplinarity stem from a general misunderstanding of its purpose or from a bad experience, others seem well-founded. Thus, while some must be rejected, others should be accepted.

I outline five different types of criticisms drawn from three main sources:(1) academic writings (see reference list), (2) an empirical survey on interdisciplinarity (Sauzet 2017) (3) informal discussions.

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Providing a richer assessment of research influence and impact

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

How can we affirm, value and capitalise on the unique strengths that each individual brings to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research? In particular, how can we capture diversity across individuals, as well as the richness and distinctness of each individual’s influence and impact?

In the course of writing ten reflective narratives (nine single-authored and one co-authored), eleven of us stumbled on a technique that we think could have broader utility in assessing influence and impact, especially in research but also in education (Bammer et al., 2019).

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A framework to evaluate the impacts of research on policy and practice

By Laura Meagher and David Edwards

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Laura Meagher (biography)

What is meant by impact generation and how can it be facilitated, captured and shared? How can researchers be empowered to think beyond ‘instrumental’ impact and identify other changes generated by their work? How can the cloud of complexity be dispersed so that numerous factors affecting development of impacts can be seen? How can a way be opened for researchers to step back and reflect critically on what happened and what could be improved in the future? How can research teams and stakeholders translate isolated examples of impact and causes of impact into narratives for both learning and dissemination?

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Trust and empowerment inventory for community groups

By Craig Dalton

Author - Craig Dalton
Craig Dalton (biography)

Community groups are often consulted by researchers, government agencies and industry. The issues may be contentious and the relationship vexed by distrust and poor communication. Could an inventory capture the fundamental sources of community frustration and highlight scope for improvement in respect, transparency, fairness, co-learning, and meeting effectiveness from a community perspective?

The trust and empowerment inventory presented below is based on the main sources of community frustration that I have witnessed over two decades as a public health physician and researcher liaising with communities about environmental health risks and it is likely to have broader relevance.

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