Why awareness raising campaigns cannot fix structural problems

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Pei Shan Loo (biography)

By Pei Shan Loo

Why are awareness raising campaigns popular? Why can’t they fix structural problems? And how can system dynamics help?

Large amounts of funding for health, societal, environmental and other complex problems are channelled into “awareness raising” to build public recognition of the problem in the hope that understanding will lead to change and a lasting solution.

Why awareness raising campaigns are popular

There are at least four reasons why funding is spent on awareness raising campaigns:

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Five insights on achieving research impact

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1. Niki Ellis (biography)
2, Anne-Maree Dowd (biography)
3. Tamika Heiden (biography)
4, Gabriele Bammer (biography)

By Niki Ellis, Anne-Maree Dowd, Tamika Heiden and Gabriele Bammer

What does it take for research to be impactful? How should research impact be assessed? How much responsibility for impact should rest with researchers and how much with government, business and/or community partners?

We present five key insights based on our experience in achieving research impact in Australia:

  1. Planning for impact is essential
  2. Quality relationships trump all other factors
  3. Assessment of research contributions should be tailored to the type of research and based on team, not individual, performance
  4. Researchers alone cannot be responsible for achieving impact
  5. Be open to continual learning.

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Listening-based dialogue: Circle of dialogue wisdom / Diálogo basado en la escucha: Círculos de diálogo entre saberes

By Adriana Moreno Cely, Darío Cuajera Nahui, César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez, Tom Vanwing and Nelson Tapia Ponce

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1. Adriana Moreno Cely; 2. Darío Cuajera Nahui; 3. César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez; 4. Tom Vanwing; 5. Nelson Tapia Ponce (biographies)

A Spanish version of this post is available.

How can marginalised knowledge systems really make themselves heard in collaborative research? What’s needed for research decolonisation to properly recognise Indigenous and local knowledge? How can power imbalances be bridged to ensure that everyone has an equal voice?

We describe the “circle of dialogue wisdom” as a methodological framework to reconceptualise participation, empowerment and collaboration. The framework has 6 phases, which should be seen as spiral and iterative rather than linear.

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What’s required for universities to address complex societal challenges?

By David D. Hart and Linda Silka

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1. David D. Hart (biography)
2. Linda Silka (biography)

How can universities use their broad array of expertise to help in understanding and addressing complex challenges, including pandemics, environmental degradation, poverty and climate change?

For more than a decade, we have been engaged in an innovative collaboration with more than 200 faculty from nearly 30 academic disciplines to align university research with societal needs. We conceived of this initiative as an “institutional experiment,” in which our public university in the US state of Maine served as the “laboratory.”

Given Maine’s priorities and our collective expertise, we focused these problem-solving efforts on the challenge of sustainable development, which requires a dual focus on improving human well-being and protecting the environment.

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Enabling divergent and convergent thinking in cross-disciplinary graduate students

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can we enable graduate students to think in ways that open new possibilities, as well as to make good decisions based on diverse cross-disciplinary insights?

Here I describe how we have embedded 14 graduate students in a research team with nine faculty from four academic institutes, representing six disciplines (for simplicity only three disciplines – engineering, economics, and anthropology – are considered here). Our research addresses the circular economy. I have developed a three-step model (summarised in the figure below) to operationalize the “divergence-convergence diamond,” which is key to our teaching method.

The “divergence – convergence diamond” is widely used in design thinking. The divergent mode helps open new possibilities while the convergent mode helps evaluate what you have and make decisions.

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Investing in change through research funding

By Petra Lundgren

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Petra Lundgren (biography)

How do funders think about investing in research that is intended to lead to change?

This blog post is written from the perspective of a research funder. More specifically it is based on reflections and lessons learned during five years managing and directing strategic research programs at a not-for-profit foundation, investing in science that would benefit the health and resilience of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Our funding mandate was to include research in a larger body of work towards a broader vision of change. This therefore provided the basis of my work and helped me shape the view that the funder has a big and critical role to play.

In the research that my organisation funded, it was important to both define and deliver impact beyond that of classic academic achievement.

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Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership

By Manal Affara

An Arabic version of this post is available.

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Manal Affara (biography)

What facilitation skills are useful for leading teams in cross-disciplinary projects?

Facilitation and leadership are usually considered to involve different skills, but in a recent article Carrie Addington (2020) examined how facilitation skills can improve leadership. I take this one step further to examine how facilitation skills can improve leadership of cross-disciplinary projects.

Collaboration is central to cross-disciplinary research, requiring facilitation to engage partners, unlock their potential, organize the project, and encourage continuous learning, as well as applying insights from that learning.

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Three ways research perpetuates injustices

By Barış Bayram

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Barış Bayram (biography)

Why is it hard to recognise the full value of a new idea, research finding or other innovation? Why do people fail to properly appreciate other people or things most of the time? Can this help explain why injustices persist?

There is no “invisible hand” that allocates rewards according to capabilities or performance, including ensuring that academic research or social interactions are recognised in terms of scientific or ethical merits.

There are three main patterns causing what I call “unjust appreciation”:

  1. lack of intellectual development to determine values, merits and deserts (ie., just rewards)
  2. cognitive biases and social biases, especially related to status and groups
  3. tribalism, along with power and conflict considerations that rely on cost-benefit analysis.

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Setting an agenda for transdisciplinary research in Africa

By Basirat Oyalowo

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Basirat Oyalowo (biography)

Why is transdisciplinary research important for the advancement of African countries? What are the key issues that need to be taken into account in fostering such research?

This blog post presents key lessons from the ‘Transdisciplinary Research Workshop: Rethinking Research in COVID-19 times’, held in August 2020, in which we brought together academia, government, civil society, industry and development agencies to delve into how researchers might navigate the new terrain wrought by COVID-19 in Africa and use it to further the development of transdisciplinary research. Although the focus of the workshop was urbanization and habitable cities and on adjusting to COVID-19, the lessons for enhancing transdisciplinary research are more broadly generalizable.

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Considerations for choosing frameworks to assess research impact

By Elena Louder, Carina Wyborn, Christopher Cvitanovic and Angela T. Bednarek

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1. Elena Louder (biography)
2. Carina Wyborn (biography)
3. Christopher Cvitanovic (biography)
4. Angela Bednarek (biography)

What should you take into account in selecting among the many frameworks for evaluating research impact?

In our recent paper (Louder et al., 2021) we examined the epistemological foundations and assumptions of several frameworks and drew out their similarities and differences to help improve the evaluation of research impact. In doing so we identified four key principles or ‘rules of thumb’ to help guide the selection of an evaluation framework for application within a specific context.

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The art of non-decision-making

By Anthony Judge

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Anthony Judge (biography)

Do you get frustrated when decision-makers avoid doing their jobs? Do you wish you could identify the techniques they use to avoid making decisions so that you can better hold them to account?

Here I identify 14 aspects of the art of non-decision-making based on my experience serving in, and observing, a range of international organisations.

1. Definitional games: This is the process of defining categories in one way in one document or organizational unit, and then defining them in another way elsewhere or at some later time. The art is to use this approach to obscure opportunities or to selectively advance particular strategies. At the same time competing definitions may be used to justify apparently incompatible strategies.

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Do we need diversity science?

By Katrin Prager

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Katrin Prager (biography)

Where do the benefits of diverse teams come from and how can those benefits be unlocked? What are the pitfalls to watch out for in constructing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts?

To boost innovation and creativity in teams I suggest we need to develop diversity science, which has 5 elements:

  1. identifying the right kind of diversity
  2. avoiding homophily
  3. avoiding dominance hierarchies
  4. fostering appropriate leadership
  5. building and protecting trust.

Let’s unpack each of these elements.

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