Managing complexity with human learning systems

By Toby Lowe

toby-lowe
Toby Lowe (biography)

How can those in public service – be they researchers, policy makers or workers in government agencies, private businesses managers, or voluntary and community organisation leaders – think more effectively about improving people’s lives, when they understand that each person’s life is a unique complex system?

A good starting point is understanding that real outcomes in people’s lives aren’t “delivered” by organisations (or by projects, partnerships or programmes, etc). Outcomes are created by the hundreds of different factors in the unique complex system that is each person’s life.

In other words, an outcome is the product of hundreds of different people, organisations, and factors in the world all coming together in a unique and ever-changing combination in a particular person’s life. Very little of what influences the outcome is under the control or influence of those who undertake public service.

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A responsible approach to intersectionality

By Ellen Lewis and Anne Stephens

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1. Ellen Lewis (biography)
2. Anne Stephens (biography)

What is intersectionality? How can it be used systemically and responsibly?

When you google the term over 66,400,000 results are returned. It is a term used by government and businesses, as well as change agents. But is it helpful and are there ways that we should be thinking about intersectionality and its inclusion in our everyday lives?

After describing intersectionality, we introduce a framework for systemic intersectionality that brings together issues that arise within three social dimensions: gender equality, environments and marginalised voices. We refer to this as the GEMs framework.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a term first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. It is a prevalent way to understand the effect of more than one type of discrimination.

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Why complex problems need abductive reasoning

By Mariana Zafeirakopoulos

mariana-zafeirakopoulos
Mariana Zafeirakopoulos (biography)

How does the way we approach complex problems differ from how we approach problems that are familiar or obvious?

In this i2Insights contribution, I explore four kinds of reasoning:

  • Deduction
  • Induction
  • Abduction
  • Design abduction.

Design abduction is the brain-child of Professor Kees Dorst (2015). In simplified terms, these different kinds of reasoning can be compared as follows (Watson and Dorst, 2022, p. 3; taken from Dorst, 2015, pp. 46-49):

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Three narratives describing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary researchers

By Laura Norton, Giulia Sonetti and Mauro Sarrica

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1. Laura Norton (biography)
2. Giulia Sonetti (biography)
3. Mauro Sarrica (biography)

How do inter- and trans- disciplinary researchers talk about themselves? Do these narratives disrupt the status-quo and help integrate inter- and trans- disciplinarity into current academic institutions?

Below, we describe three narratives that can be applied to how inter- and trans- disciplinary researchers talk about themselves, namely as:

  • Heroes
  • Refugees in sanctuaries
  • Navigators of shifting borders.

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What transdisciplinary researchers should know about evaluation: Origins and current state

By Wolfgang Beywl and Amy Gullickson

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1. Wolfgang Beywl (biography)
2. Amy Gullickson (biography)

Efforts to develop evaluation in transdisciplinary research have mostly been conducted without reference to the evaluation literature, effectively re-inventing and re-discussing key concepts. What do transdisciplinary researchers need to know to build on the in-depth knowledge available in evaluation science?

Here we add to other key contributions about evaluation in i2Insights, especially:

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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:

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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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Ignorance: Vocabulary and taxonomy

By Michael Smithson

Michael Smithson
Michael Smithson (biography)

How can we better understand ignorance? In the 1980s I proposed the view that ignorance is not simply the absence of knowledge, but is socially constructed and comes in different kinds (Smithson, 1989). Here I present a brief overview of that work, along with some key subsequent developments.

Defining ignorance

Let’s begin with a workable definition of ignorance and then work from there to a taxonomy of types of ignorance. Our definition will have to deal both with simple lack of knowledge but also incorrect ideas. It will also have to deal with the fact that if one is attributing ignorance to someone, the ignoramus may be a different person or oneself.

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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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Understanding diversity primer: 8. Personality

By Gabriele Bammer

primer_diversity_8_personalityWhat is a useful way of understanding personality and why is it important? How could personality affect how problems are framed, understood and responded to? How does personality affect how well those contributing to the research work together?

Personality is one of the most evident ways in which people differ. A useful way of coming to terms with this aspect of diversity is to focus on traits that predict behaviour. The HEXACO model is considered to be valid across cultures and focuses on 6 traits:

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Understanding diversity primer: 7. Culture

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can we begin to understand cultural diversity? How does culture affect how problems are framed, understood and responded to? How does culture affect how well those contributing to the research work together?

In this primer, the term ‘culture’ is used to describe the social behaviours and norms of groups in society. There is, therefore, overlap with values, but culture and values are not identical. Cultural differences are commonly thought of in relation to the inhabitants of different countries, but can also apply to occupations, religions, age-groups, members of different social classes and much more.

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