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.

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A tool for transforming resistance to insights in decision-making

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

Do you encounter resistance from your team members, especially in regard to difficult decisions? How might decision-making processes be better facilitated to generate insights instead of resistance?

I describe a conceptual framework and an accompanying practical tool from Lewis Deep Democracy (2021) that can transform resistance to insights in decision-making processes.

The conceptual framework: Understanding how decision making generates resistance

It is important first to understand the consciousness of a team. If you think of a team’s consciousness as an iceberg, the ideas and opinions that are expressed are the conscious part above the waterline, while those that are not expressed are the unconscious part below the waterline. If decisions are made based only on the team’s expressed ideas and opinions, those below the waterline will likely form resistance. This is often what happens with “majority rules” democracy.

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How can social network analysis benefit transdisciplinary research?

By Leonhard Späth, Rea Pärli and the RUNRES project team

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1. Leonhard Späth (biography)
2. Rea Pärli (biography)
3. RUNRES Project Team (participants)

Can we observe in a more analytical way how transdisciplinarity “happens”? How useful is social network analysis in transdisciplinary work, especially for uncovering the role of relationship structures? How can transdisciplinary concepts be used to map connections between those involved in transdisciplinary research?

A very brief introduction to social network analysis

Social network analysis is the study of connections between different people or any other social entity involved in the topic under investigation (referred to as actors), as well as the patterns of those connections and the distribution of the ties among actors.

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Give-and-take matrix for transdisciplinary projects

By Michael Stauffacher and Sibylle Studer

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1. Michael Stauffacher (biography)
2. Sibylle Studer (biography)

Transdisciplinary research projects often have multiple components, including sub-projects that involve co-production with various stakeholders, more standard discipline-based pieces gathering specific understandings of the problem, and investigations into options for transforming the problem situations.

How can the individual parts of transdisciplinary research projects be effectively aligned? How can interactions and integration within the whole research team be improved? What’s needed to make mutual expectations explicit and to identify possibilities for further collaboration?

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Gradients of agreement for democratic decision-making

By Hannah Love

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Hannah Love (biography)

How does your team make decisions? Do you vote? Does the loudest voice usually win? Does everyone on the team generally feel heard? Does your team have a charter to provide guidance? Or maybe there is often just silence and the team assumes agreement?

The next time your team makes a decision, here is something new you can try! Kaner (2014) proposes using a gradients of agreement scale. The gradients of agreement, also known as the consensus spectrum, provides an alternative to yes/no decision-making by allowing everyone to mark their response along a continuum, as shown in the figure below.

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How systems thinking enhances systems leadership

By Catherine Hobbs and Gerald Midgley

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1. Catherine Hobbs (biography)
2. Gerald Midgley (biography)

Systems leadership involves organisations, including governments, collaborating to address complex issues and achieve necessary systemic transformations. So, if this is the case, how can systems leadership be helped by systems thinking?

Systems leadership is concerned with facilitating innovation by bringing together a network of organisations. These then collaborate between themselves and with other stakeholders to deliver some kind of service, influence a policy outcome or develop a product that couldn’t have been achieved by any one of the organisations working alone.

Recognising that a network of organisations can achieve something that emerges from their interactions involves a certain amount of implicit systems thinking.

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Responding to unacknowledged disciplinary differences with the Toolbox dialogue method

By Graham Hubbs, Michael O’Rourke, Steven Hecht Orzack

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1. Graham Hubbs (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)
3. Steven Hecht Orzack (biography)

Have you collaborated with people on a complex project and wondered why it is so difficult? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Do my collaborators even conceive of the project and its goals in the way I do?” Projects involving collaborators from different disciplines or professions seem almost ready made to generate this kind of bewilderment. Collaborators on cross-disciplinary projects like these often ask different kinds of questions and pursue different kinds of answers.

This confusion can bedevil cross-disciplinary research. The allure of such research is its promise of solving complex problems by bringing together a variety of perspectives that when combined lead to solutions that any one perspective would fail to find. But combining different disciplinary perspectives also requires undertaking the tasks of translating different technical languages, reconciling different methodological preferences, and coordinating different ways of carving up the world. These tasks are difficult and it’s no wonder that cross-disciplinary research often fails to be truly cross-disciplinary.

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Breaking through disciplinary barriers with practical mapping

By Steven E. Wallis and Bernadette Wright

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1. Steven E. Wallis (biography)
2. Bernadette Wright (biography)

How can practical mapping help develop interdisciplinary knowledge for tackling real-world problems — such as poverty, justice and health — that have many causes? How can it help take into account political, economic, technological and other factors that can worsen or improve the issues?

Maps are useful because they show your surroundings – where things are in relation to each other (and to you). They show the goals we want to achieve and what it takes to get there.

‘Practical mapping’ is a straight-forward approach for using concepts and connections to integrate knowledge across and between disciplines, to support effective action.

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Providing a richer assessment of research influence and impact

By Gabriele Bammer

author - gabriele bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

How can we affirm, value and capitalise on the unique strengths that each individual brings to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research? In particular, how can we capture diversity across individuals, as well as the richness and distinctness of each individual’s influence and impact?

In the course of writing ten reflective narratives (nine single-authored and one co-authored), eleven of us stumbled on a technique that we think could have broader utility in assessing influence and impact, especially in research but also in education (Bammer et al., 2019).

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Theory U: A promising journey to embracing unknown unknowns

By Vanesa Weyrauch

author-venesa-weyrauch
Vanesa Weyrauch (biography)

How can we best live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world? How can we shift from a worldview that looks to predict and control what is to be done through plans and strategies to being present and flexible in order to respond effectively as unexpected changes take place? How can we be open to not knowing what will emerge and embrace uncertainty as the opportunity to co-create and learn?

One powerful and promising way forward is Theory U, a change methodology developed by Otto Scharmer and illustrated below. Scharmer introduced the concept of “presencing”—learning from the emerging future. The concept of “presencing” blends “sensing” (feeling the future possibility) and “presence” (the state of being in the present moment). It acknowledges that we don’t know the answers. Staying at the bottom of the U until the best potential future starts emerging requires embracing uncertainty as fertile soil.

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Blackboxing unknown unknowns through vulnerability analysis

By Joseph Guillaume

Author - Joseph Guillaume
Joseph Guillaume (biography)

What’s a productive way to think about undesirable outcomes and how to avoid them, especially in an unpredictable future full of unknown unknowns? Here I describe the technique of vulnerability analysis, which essentially has three steps:

  • Step 1: Identify undesirable outcomes, to be avoided
  • Step 2: Look for conditions that can lead to such outcomes, ie. vulnerabilities
  • Step 3: Manage the system to mitigate or adapt to vulnerable conditions.

The power of vulnerability analysis is that, by starting from outcomes, it avoids making assumptions about what led to the vulnerabilities.

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Designing scenarios to guide robust decisions

By Bonnie McBain

Bonnie McBain (biography)

What makes scenarios useful to decision makers in effectively planning for the future? Here I discuss three aspects of scenarios:

  • goals;
  • design; and,
  • use and defensibility.

Goals of scenarios

Since predicting the future is not possible, it’s important to know that scenarios are not predictions. Instead, scenarios stimulate thinking and conversations about possible futures.

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