Understanding researcher positionality using the insider-outsider continuum

By Rebecca Laycock Pedersen and Varvara Nikulina

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1. Rebecca Laycock Pedersen (biography)
2. Varvara Nikulina (biography)

How can researchers express their positionality? What does positionality mean?

In working at the interface of science and society, researchers play many different roles, even within a single project, as, for example:

As researchers, our role within a project is a part of our ‘positionality,’ or our social position. Positionality as defined by Agar (1996) is whether one sees oneself as an outsider, a ‘neutral’ investigator, or something else.

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Leadership and the hidden politics of co-produced research

By Catherine Durose, Beth Perry, Liz Richardson and Rikki Dean

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1. Catherine Durose (biography)
2. Beth Perry (biography)
3. Liz Richardson (biography)
4. Rikki Dean (biography)

What are the hidden politics of seeking to co-produce research with stakeholders? What kinds of leadership are common in co-produced research? What trade-offs does each kind of leadership make in addressing issues such as being directive, inclusive, innovative, accountable, open to what emerges and sharing power?

The hidden politics of co-production in research

The hidden politics of co-production in research involves tensions and debates about:

1. The purposes of scientific work.
Co-production brings together people, not only with different expertise, but also with different purposes for being involved, which can range from achieving more effective policy and practice outcomes to delivering social justice and empowering those experiencing disadvantage.

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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. 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.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 3. Selecting stakeholders

By Gabriele Bammer

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Given that most research projects will not have the funding or time to involve all stakeholders who have been identified as potential contributors, what criteria are useful for selecting those to be invited to participate? How can those identified be assessed against the criteria?

Four criteria for selecting stakeholders are:

  • their legitimacy
  • their real and potential power
  • the urgency they assign to the problem
  • practical considerations.

Legitimacy

Legitimacy can usefully be examined along the following four dimensions:

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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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Stakeholder engagement primer: 1a. Why a primer? 1b. Defining stakeholders

By Gabriele Bammer

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1a. Why a primer?

Do researchers who want to engage with stakeholders need a basic set of skills? Can we define a skillset that will work for many problems and in a variety of contexts?

My starting point for this primer is that the answer to both questions is “yes” and I have set out to provide those basics in nine easy-to-read blog posts. The tenth blog post in the series sketches out selected additional “advanced” skills; these need more interpersonal competences, experience, and knowledge.

The advantages of using a blog over other forms of communication are that it provides a vehicle for input and feedback, as well as being widely accessible. Comments on each blog post are therefore very welcome, particularly examples and lessons from your own work, things you wish you had known when you were starting out, and general feedback and critique.

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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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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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Six ways to see systems leadership

By Benjamin Taylor

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Benjamin Taylor (biography)

What do we mean by systems leadership? And how does it relate to systems change?

Ideas about both systems thinking and systems change have become prominent over the last few years, but the terms are often poorly defined and used with a range of meanings.

I suggest that there are broadly six types or flavours of systems leadership, all of which have key implications for systems change. And, of course, they can overlap.

1. Systems leadership as a form of better leadership

This is inclusive, mobilising, and systems aware leadership.

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Three ways research perpetuates injustices

By Barış Bayram

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Barış Bayram (biography)

Why is it hard to recognise the full value of a new idea, research finding or other innovation? Why do people fail to properly appreciate other people or things most of the time? Can this help explain why injustices persist?

There is no “invisible hand” that allocates rewards according to capabilities or performance, including ensuring that academic research or social interactions are recognised in terms of scientific or ethical merits.

There are three main patterns causing what I call “unjust appreciation”:

  1. lack of intellectual development to determine values, merits and deserts (ie., just rewards)
  2. cognitive biases and social biases, especially related to status and groups
  3. tribalism, along with power and conflict considerations that rely on cost-benefit analysis.

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Capitalising on incommensurability

By Darryn Reid

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Darryn Reid (biography)

How can we harness incommensurability as a pivotal enabler of cross-disciplinary collaboration?

Effective cross-disciplinary research across multiple traditional disparate fields of study hinges on logical incommensurability, which occurs because, in general, those ideas will have been constructed using incompatible frameworks to solve distinct problem formulations within dissimilar intellectual traditions.

In other words, the internal logical consistency of a discipline’s way of approaching problems is no guarantee of ability to be integrated with another discipline’s way of approaching problems. Incommensurability should come as no surprise to anyone involved in cross-disciplinary activities. What is pivotal here, however, is the view that incommensurability is not an obstacle to be avoided or feared but an enabler.

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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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