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. I proposed the following definition:

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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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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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Managing risk and equity in collaborative research

By Alisa Zomer and Selmah Goldberg

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1. Alisa Zomer (biography)
2. Selmah Goldberg (biography)

How do the perceived costs, benefits and risks that researchers envision compare to reality when a project is implemented? How can we best support equitable exchange and decision-making for all actors involved in research study design and implementation?

We have developed a risk and equity matrix to stimulate systematic consideration of potential impacts for stakeholders, researchers and others involved in a research process, to ensure that risks and benefits of research collaborations are distributed in a more equitable manner.

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Assessing assumptions about boundaries with critical systems heuristics

By Werner Ulrich

werner-ulrich
Werner Ulrich (biography)

How can those participating in research effectively reflect on their own assumptions about where they set boundaries around: problems, solutions, measures of success, knowledge claims and other aspects of research? These aspects are inevitably partial in the dual sense of representing a part rather than the whole of the total universe of conceivable considerations, and of serving some parties better than others.

How can examination of assumptions about boundaries be employed as an emancipatory practice to assess the assumptions of others and to point to better ways of serving the disenfranchised and marginalised?

I developed critical systems heuristics in the 1980s to support such boundary critique.

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Understanding diversity primer: 4. Power

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can an understanding of diversity in power improve research on complex societal and environmental problems? What are the different ways in which diversity in power plays out?

Simply put, there are currently two common ways in which power is taken into account in research on complex societal and environmental problems:

  1. those working with marginalised stakeholders, or otherwise committed to giving everyone involved in the research an equal voice, often seek to eliminate differences in power
  2. those who seek to use their research to change policy or practice generally attempt to find ways to influence those with the power to make those changes.

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Intentional ecology: Building values, advocacy and action into transdisciplinary environmental research

By Alexandra Knight and Catherine Allan

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1. Alexandra Knight (biography)
2. Catherine Allan (biography)

As a society, how do we encourage early and ethical action when building our knowledge and confronting serious challenges?

In this blog post we explore the conceptual framework of intentional ecology and apply it to a case study to illustrate how it deals with the question raised above.

Intentional ecology – foundations and actions

Intentional ecology, illustrated in the figure below, is a new conceptual framework that enables early, applied and relevant integrated action, as well as reflexive and dynamic approaches to implementation of conservation and sustainability measures. It’s a better way of doing science.

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How to systematically design transdisciplinary project evaluation

By Emilia Nagy and Martina Schäfer

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1. Emilia Nagy (biography)
2. Martina Schäfer (biography; photo source: Landtag Brandenburg)

How can the formative, ie. process, evaluation of transdisciplinary research projects best incorporate the likely link between process and outcomes in such research? What are some useful approaches for developing an effective evaluation plan with a lens of impact orientation?

We describe how to systematically formulate criteria and indicators for the evaluation of transdisciplinary projects by combining:

  • impactful research practices (Lux et al., 2019)
  • impact heuristics (Schäfer et al., 2021)
  • theory-of-change method (Belcher et al., 2019).

The combination of these approaches provides a strong foundation for impact orientation in all project phases.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 4. Options for engagement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What options are available to researchers for including stakeholders in a research project in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, provide ideas about addressing it and help the research to support policy or practice change? Can different stakeholders be included in different ways? Can the same group of stakeholders participate in different ways in various aspects of the research? What obligations do researchers have to participating stakeholders over the course of that project?

It can be useful to consider 5 ways in which researchers can include stakeholders in a project:

1. Inform:
Researchers provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the research.

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A framework for identifying diversity in epistemic communities, linguistic variety and culture

By Varvara Nikulina, Johan Larson Lindal, Henrikke Baumann, David Simon, and Henrik Ny

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1. Varvara Nikulina; 2. Johan Larson Lindal; 3. Henrikke Baumann; 4. David Simon; 5. Henrik Ny (biographies)

How can facilitators take into account diversity stemming from epistemic communities, linguistic variety and culture when leading workshops aimed at co-production in transdisciplinary research?

Although facilitators are skilled in mitigating conflicting interests and ideas among participants, they are often poorly prepared for dealing with these other types of diversity.

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A quick guide to post-normal science

By Silvio Funtowicz

silvio-funtowicz
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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Combining and adapting frameworks for research implementation

By Kirsty Jones and Sara Bice

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1. Kirsty Jones (biography)
2. Sara Bice (biography)

How can combining frameworks help plan a research implementation process? What specific contributions can different frameworks make?

In our research with industry, we found combining three frameworks to be an effective way to get handles on a complex implementation landscape and to design the necessary steps to systematically work our way through it. The frameworks we found useful were: a logic model, a pathway to impact and the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, which we adapted to our context.

We provide four figures to show how we used each framework and briefly describe the benefits we derived from each of them. Although fully understanding the detail in the figures requires familiarity with the specifics of our research, we trust the figures provide insight into how each framework was used.

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