Systems thinking in public policy: Making space to think differently

By Catherine Hobbs

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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:

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Multidisciplinary perspectives on unknown unknowns

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

This is part of a series of occasional “synthesis blog posts” drawing together perspectives on related topics across i2Insights contributions.

How can different disciplines and practitioners enhance the ability to understand and manage unknown unknowns, also referred to as deep uncertainty?

Seventeen blog posts have addressed these issues, covering:

  • how unknown unknowns can be understood
  • exploiting unknown unknowns
  • accepting unknown unknowns
  • reducing unknown unknowns.

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Stakeholder engagement: Learning from Arnstein’s ladder and the IAP2 spectrum

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What can researchers interested in stakeholder engagement learn from two classic frameworks on citizen involvement in government decision making – Arnstein’s ladder and the IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) spectrum of public participation?

Arnstein’s ladder

Sherry Arnstein (1969) developed an eight-rung ladder, shown in the figure below, to illustrate that there are significant gradations of citizen participation in government decision making.

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Pause… How art and literature can transform transdisciplinary research

By Jane Palmer and Dena Fam

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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.

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Advancing considerations of affect in interdisciplinary collaborations

By Mareike Smolka, Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein

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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.

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Insights into interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in India and Brazil

By Marcel Bursztyn and Seema Purushothaman

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1. Marcel Bursztyn (biography)
2. Seema Purushothaman (biography)

How are interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity faring in India and Brazil? How do they differ from interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the Global North? Are there particular lessons to be drawn from India and Brazil for the global interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary communities?

India and Brazil are among the most prominent countries of the Global South in the worldwide academic scene. Both have problems in common, but they have also singularities.

The focus in both countries at the institutional level tends to be on what is referred to as interdisciplinarity. The emergence of a new generation of liberal universities and other academic institutions open to interdisciplinary scholarship has allowed a small cohort of interdisciplinary scholars to emerge.

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Three lessons for community engagement in international research

By Aysha Fleming

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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

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Collaboration agreement template

By L. Michelle Bennett, Edgar Cardenas and Michael O’Rourke

1. L. Michelle Bennett (biography)
2. Edgar Cardenas (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)

As scientific research continues to move towards collaborative knowledge production, scientists must become more adept at working in teams. How can teams improve their chances of collaboration success? What is a good way to facilitate dialogue about shared values, norms and processes of collaboration? Are there ways of anticipating, identifying, and addressing obstacles as they arise?

We have designed a collaboration agreement template to assist teams in:

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A process for generating new cross-disciplinary projects

By Gemma Jiang

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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.

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Understanding diversity primer: 10. Advanced considerations

By Gabriele Bammer

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Once researchers have a basic understanding of various types of diversity and their impacts on researching complex societal and environmental problems, what else is it useful for them to know? How can we move towards effective ways of incorporating more diversity into research?

It is important to recognize that, while the principle of increasing diversity is admirable, putting it into practice is hard, time-consuming and risky. Increasing diversity by embedding newcomers into existing teams or establishing new teams requires time and effort to reach new understandings and ways of working to ensure that no-one is marginalized or discounted, and to resolve miscommunications and disagreements.

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Analysing key policy actors with the alignment, interest and influence matrix (AIIM)

By Enrique Mendizabal

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Enrique Mendizabal (biography)

How can researchers seeking to change a policy get a useful picture of the key actors involved in that policy space? Who should they partner with? Who will need convincing? Whose arguments will counter their own?

The Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM) was designed to address these questions.

The AIIM tool is useful as far as it can encourage an open and thoughtful conversation. In my experience, the tool is most useful when the people involved provide a breadth of experience and insight into the policy process that they are trying to affect.

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Understanding diversity primer: 9. Team roles

By Gabriele Bammer

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What is the range of roles that members of a team need to cover in order for the team to be effective? What strengths and weaknesses are associated with each role?

Teamwork is common in research on complex societal and environmental problems. The Belbin team roles identify nine clusters of skills that need to be included within a team for it to be most effective. An individual can bring more than one cluster of skills to the team, with most people having two or three Belbin team roles that they are comfortable with.

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