Social science identities in interdisciplinary research and education

By Eric Toman

eric-toman
Eric Toman (biography)

What does it mean to include ‘a social scientist’ in a team tackling complex problems? Here I focus on complex environmental problems and how biophysical and social scientists work together. I’m curious if social scientists face the same issues in other problem areas, such as health.

Things have improved since my early academic career, when I was often asked to justify why a social scientist deserved a seat at the table when discussing environmental questions. It seemed that even supportive natural scientists were motivated to engage their social science colleagues only to ‘fix’ some type of problem caused by people (e.g., politicians, decision-makers, managers, the “general public”).

While it’s now normal for social scientists to be included, they tend to be lumped together, unlike the biophysical scientists who are differentiated into a range of disciplines with relevant specialization areas.

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In praise of multidisciplinarity

By Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What characterizes multidisciplinary research? When is it most appropriate? What does it take to do it well? Multidisciplinarity often gets a bad rap, being seen as less sophisticated than interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. But does it have its own important role in dealing with complex social and environmental problems?

Multidisciplinary research has two primary characteristics:

  1. different disciplines independently shine their light on a particular problem, and
  2. synthesis happens at the end and can be undertaken by anyone.

Unlike interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, there is no attempt to agree upfront on either a problem definition or on how the different perspectives will be brought together.

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Training translational ecologists: Moving from accidental to intentional

Mark Brunson
Mark Brunson (biography)

By Mark Brunson

How does an ecologist become translational? What training is needed to venture beyond the lab or university and to engage with the potential beneficiaries or users of their research? To communicate with (and listen to) a lay audience, advise policymaking processes, initiate a citizen science project, or involve stakeholders in the design, analysis, and interpretation of research?

William Schlesinger (2010), in coining the term translational ecology, warned that “[u]nless the discoveries of ecological science are rapidly translated into meaningful actions, they will remain quietly archived while the biosphere degrades.”

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Art and participatory modelling

By Hara W. Woltz and Eleanor J. Sterling

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1. Hara W. Woltz (biography)
2. Eleanor J. Sterling (biography)

What can art contribute to participatory modelling? Over the past decade, participatory visual and narrative arts have been more frequently and effectively incorporated into scenario planning and visioning workshops.

We use arts-based techniques in three ways:

  1. incorporating arts language into the process of visioning
  2. delineating eco-aesthetic values of the visual and aural landscape in communities
  3. engaging art to articulate challenges and solutions within local communities.

The arts based approaches we use include collage, drawing, visual note taking, map making, storyboarding, photo documentation through shared cameras, mobile story telling, performance in the landscape, drawing as a recording device, and collective mural creation.

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Serious gaming: Helping stakeholders address community problems

By Nagesh Kolagani

kolagani
Nagesh Kolagani (biography)

Citizens are increasingly coming together to solve problems that affect their communities. Participatory modeling is a method that helps them to share their implicit and explicit knowledge of these problems with each other and to plan and implement mutually acceptable and sustainable solutions.

While using this method, stakeholders need to understand large amounts of information relating to these problems. Various interactive visualization tools are being developed for this purpose. One such tool is ‘serious gaming’ which combines technologies from the video game industry – mystery, appealing graphics, etc., – with a purpose other than pure entertainment, a serious, problem driven, educational purpose.

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Eight institutional practices to support interdisciplinary research

By Margaret Palmer, Jonathan Kramer, James Boyd, and David Hawthorne

margaret-palmer
Margaret Palmer (biography)

How can institutions help enhance interdisciplinary team success? We share eight practices we have developed at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) which was launched in 2011 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

jonathan-kramer
Jonathan Kramer (biography)

The center supports newly formed research teams from anywhere in the world to work collaboratively at its facility. The teams synthesize existing theories and data to advance understanding of socio-environmental systems and the ability to solve environmental problems.

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Integrating disciplines / Integrando disciplinas

By Marcel Bursztyn, Gabriela Litre and Stéphanie Nasuti

marcel-bursztyn
Marcel Bursztyn (biography)

An English version of this post is available

Como conseguir que um grupo multidisciplinar integrado por economistas, climatologistas, geógrafos, antropólogos, biólogos, sociólogos, jornalistas, engenheiros químicos, engenheiros ambientais e advogados trabalhe de maneira mais interdisciplinar?

gabriela-litre
Gabriela Litre (biography)

Esse foi o desafio encarado por um projeto de pesquisa sobre as percepções de agricultores familiares de quatro biomas brasileiros (a Amazônia, o Cerrado, o Pantanal e o Semiárido) sobre os impactos que as mudanças climáticas estão tendo nos seus modos de vida. Esse pequenos produtores, com baixa disponibilidade de capital, estão expostos a riscos naturais e socioeconômicos, e são extremadamente vulneráveis aos eventos climáticos extremos.

stephanie-nasuti
Stéphanie Nasuti (biography)

Um fator chave foi a demarcação do marco teórico do projeto, que incluiu a hipótese de que o sucesso das politicas de adaptação aumenta consideravelmente quando essas políticas se baseiam em um conhecimento de primeira mão das realidades cotidianas e das percepções das populações envolvidas.

O desenho da pesquisa foi guiado por três elementos básicos:

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Responding to stakeholders – lessons learnt

By Klaus Hubacek and Christina Prell

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1. Klaus Hubacek (biography)
2. Christina Prell (biography)

Being responsive to stakeholder interests and suggestions is important for successful participatory modeling. We share lessons from an exciting, five year project in the UK entitled the ‘Sustainable Uplands’. The project sought to bring together a variety of groups ranging from academics, policy makers, residents, conservationists, and different ‘end user’ groups that all, in some way, held a stake in upland park areas in the UK.

Our process was iterative, tacking back and forth between field work, consultations among the research team, consultations with non-academic stakeholders, and modeling. Not only were our models heavily influenced by what stakeholders told us were important values and considerations regarding upland areas, but these also informed how we went about gathering the data.

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Modeling as social practice

SDC10303
Jeremy Trombley (biography)

By Jeremy Trombley

Modeling – the creation of simplified or abstract representations of the world – is something that people do in many different ways and for many different reasons, and is a social practice. This is true even in the case of scientific and computational models that don’t meet the specific criteria of “participatory” or “collaborative.” Scientists and modelers interact with one another, share information, critique and help to refine one another’s work, and much more as they build models.

Furthermore, all of these activities take place within broader social structures – universities, government agencies, non-government organizations, or simply community groups – and involve resources – funding sources, technologies – that also have social factors that are both embedded within and emerging from them. Understanding the relationship between all of these social dimensions as well as those of the problems that modeling is being used to address is an important task, particularly in participatory modeling projects.

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Can mapping mental models improve research implementation?

By Katrin Prager

katrin-prager
Katrin Prager (biography)

We all have different mental models of the environment and the people around us. They help us make sense of what we experience. In a recent project exploring how to improve soil management (PDF 250KB), Michiel Curfs and I used data collected from Spanish farmers and our own experience to develop and compare the mental model of a typical Spanish farmer growing olives with that of a hypothetical scientist. How did their mental models of soil degradation differ? Mainly in terms of understanding the role of ploughing, and the importance of drivers for certain soil management activities. There were only a few areas of overlap: both scientist and farmer were concerned about fire risk and acknowledged weeds. We emphasise the importance of two-way communication, and recommend starting by focusing on areas of overlap and then moving to areas that are different. Without integrating understandings from both mental models, the scientist will carry on making recommendations for reducing soil degradation that the farmer cannot implement or does not find relevant.

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