In praise of multidisciplinarity

By Gabriele Bammer

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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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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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Co-Production: It’s all about relationships

By Kirsten Kainz

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Kirsten Kainz (biography)

Relationships are the underpinnings of the co-production process. The quality of knowledge gained and the solutions produced are a function of the quality of relationships among the participants.

In a recent paper, Lorrae van Kerkhoff and Louis Lebel (2015) also made strong claims about the relevance, salience, and potential impacts of relationships in the co-production of science and governance needed for sustainable improvements responding to global environmental change.

One important clarification raised by van Kerkhoff and Lebel (2015) is that relationships exist not only among individuals, but also among institutions.  These relationships among individuals and institutions exist in historical contexts that are interpreted differently by diverse members.  Individual and institutional interpretations affect action and meaning-making in co-production settings.

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Models as narratives

By Alison Singer

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Alison Singer (biography)

I don’t see the world in pictures. I mean, I see the world in all its beautiful shapes and colors and shadings, but I don’t interpret the world that way. I interpret the world through the stories I create. My interpretations of these stories are my own mental models of how I view the world. What I can do then, to share this mental model, is create a more formalized model, whether it is a simple picture (in my case a very badly drawn one), or a system dynamics model, or an agent-based model. People think of models as images, as representations, as visualizations, as simulations. As tools to represent, to simplify, to teach, and to share. And they are all these things, and we need them to function as these things, but they are also stories, and can be interpreted and shared as such.

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Serious gaming: Helping stakeholders address community problems

By Nagesh Kolagani

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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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Playing Around with PARTICIPOLOGY

By Alister Scott

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Alister Scott (biography)

Have you ever wanted a new way to engage with stakeholders that is more engaging, fun and effective? PARTICIPOLOGY is a set of open-access web resources and associated guidance that sets out to achieve these aims. It uses a board game format where players encounter questions and challenges as a dice throw dictates. The board, questions and rules of the game can be designed from scratch or existing templates can be adapted to the specific goals you have in mind. The game was designed to be used in participatory forums about land use options, but the principles can be more widely applied to all kinds of participatory processes.

There are five key findings from developing and using these resources.

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Choosing a model: If all you have is a hammer…

By Jen Badham

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Jen Badham (biography)

As a modeller, I often get requests from research or policy colleagues along the lines of ‘we want a model of the health system’. It’s relatively easy to recognise that ‘health system’ is too vague and needs explicit discussion about the specific issue to be modelled. It is much less obvious that the term ‘model’ also needs to be refined. In practice, different modelling methods are more or less appropriate for different questions. So how is the modelling method chosen?

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Eight institutional practices to support interdisciplinary research

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

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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.

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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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Virtues and vices of real world co-creation

By Quassim Cassam

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Quassim Cassam (biography)

I approach this topic as an analytic philosopher rather than a specialist in co-creation. It’s clear that co-creation is thought to offer a promising response to real world problems and it connects in interesting ways with my own work on epistemic virtues and vices.

What is ‘co-creation’ and what are its benefits, real or imagined? To ‘create’ something is to bring it into existence. Co-creation, as I understand it, is the creation of a product by two or more people or agencies with particular characteristics working together in a particular way.

The key questions are: (a) what is the ‘product’ of co-creation? (b) What are the particular characteristics of those involved in co-creation? (c) What is the particular ‘way’ of working together that distinguishes co-creation from other collaborative activities?

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Integrating disciplines / Integrando disciplinas

By Marcel Bursztyn, Gabriela Litre and Stéphanie Nasuti

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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?

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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.

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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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Facilitating multidisciplinary decision making

By Bob Dick

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Bob Dick (biography)

Imagine this scenario. You are confronted by a wicked problem, such as the obesity epidemic. You know it’s a wicked problem – many previous attempts to resolve it have failed.

Suppose that you wish to develop a plan to remedy obesity. You have identified as many relevant areas of expertise and experience as you can and approached appropriate people – researchers, health practitioners, people with political influence, and so on.

You bring them together to pool their expertise—only to find that you now have another problem. Encouraging them to work collaboratively is more difficult than you expected. They talk in jargon. Their understanding is narrow. Their commitment is to their own discipline. Some of their understanding is tacit. Some of them are argumentative. And more. What are you to do?

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Can co-creation achieve better outcomes for people and communities?

By Deborah Ghate

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Deborah Ghate (biography)

The language of ‘co-processes’ is much in vogue in policy, practice and academic communities worldwide. In commerce, product design and politics, the power of the crowd has long been recognised, but can co-processes be harnessed for the public good? The answer, right now, appears to be ‘maybe’.

What are co-processes and what are they for?

The briefest survey of the literature on co-processes confirms there is substantial variation in how they are defined and what methods or techniques they include. A confusing multiplicity of related terms exists—co-construction, co-production, co-design, co-innovation, co-creation—all are in regular use, sometimes interchangeably, and often defined at an unhelpful level of abstraction (for more on this topic see the blog post by Allison Metz on Co-creation, co-design, co-production, co-construction: same or different?). Nevertheless, however we define co-processes, participatory methods, boundary-spanning and inclusivity to varying degrees are foundational principles that can be detected in most accounts. Beyond that, the stated purposes and proposed outcomes vary considerably.

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