Should water scientists be advocates?

By Patricia Gober

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Patricia Gober (biography)

Efforts to improve the use of models to support policy and practice on water resources issues have increased awareness of the role of advocacy and public engagement in the modeling process. Hydrologists have much to learn from the recent experience of climate scientists who have discovered that scientific knowledge is not independent of the political context in which it is used but rather is co-produced by scientists and society.

Despite a strong consensus among climate scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 report that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” approximately one-third of the USA’s population still does not believe that global temperatures have risen over the past 100 years and does not trust the things that scientists say about the environment.

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Looking over the horizon for team effectiveness

By Stephen M. Fiore

Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

How can we better understand how to improve team effectiveness, as well as help society more broadly? In the last decade, there has been a great deal of growth of interdisciplinary research on teams, thanks to organizations like the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research and the developing field of the Science of Team Science.

New areas

The study of teams has long been making important contributions to business organizations, the military, and healthcare and is now branching out to scientific research teams, cyber security teams, and even spaceflight teams. Each of these domains is of significant societal relevance for the 21st century. They represent important topics for what is called use-inspired basic science.

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Should researchers be honest brokers or advocates?

By John Callewaert

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John Callewaert (biography)

When to advocate and when to be an honest broker is a question that deserves serious attention by those working on collaborative and engaged research initiatives. In my role as the Integrated Assessment director at the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute I facilitate a wide array of collaborative research efforts. For most of our initiatives we strive to work within an honest broker frame. Following the work of Pielke (2007), the honest broker engages in decision-making by clarifying and sometimes expanding the scope of choice to decision-makers. Our recent analysis of options for High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan[1] (fracking) and outlining sustainability goals for our Ann Arbor campus[2] are two examples which involved teams of faculty, students, practitioners and decision-makers.

The honest broker approach was particularly important for the project on fracking given the polarized views that can sometimes be associated with this topic.

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The knowledge practice paradox

By Robert Duiveman

Robert Duiveman (biography)

Both researchers and politicians frequently claim that the interactions between science and public policy need reform and improvement: an agenda actualized by people all over the world by engaging in new collaborative knowledge practices. But a closer relationship doesn’t necessarily equal a better one; it depends on the design of the collaboration as well as the choices made along the way.

Given the societal and scientific importance attached to new knowledge practices, there is a striking lack of insight into what is actually done within them. There seems to be what I label a knowledge practice paradox.

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Facilitating participatory modeling

By Rebecca Jordan

Rebecca Jordan (biography)

Facilitate: “To help (something) run more smoothly and effectively” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

Like many practices in life, there is an art and a science to facilitation.  Certainly, best practices in facilitating processes within participatory modeling mirror many of those practices highlighted in guides to other participatory approaches.  It is of critical importance that the expectations around the word “effective”, as taken from the definition above, are identified and negotiated. How can an individual or team of individuals help the process if expectations are unmatched?

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Working together for better outcomes: Lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners

By Kit Macleod

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Kit Macleod (biography)

As a community of interdisciplinary practice we need to share our collective knowledge on how funders, researchers and wider research partners can work together for better outcomes to address pressing societal challenges.

Funding interdisciplinary research: improving practices and processes

Seven key challenges to funding interdisciplinary research include:

  1. No agreed criteria defining ‘excellence’ in interdisciplinary research.
  2. Poor agreement of the benefits and costs of interdisciplinary ways of working.
  3. No agreement on how much or what kind of additional funding support is required for interdisciplinary research.
  4. No consensus on terminology.
  5. No clearly delineated college of peers from which to select appropriate reviewers.
  6. Limited appropriate interdisciplinary peer review processes.
  7. Restrictions within funding organisations concerning budget allocations and support for interdisciplinary research.

A guidance note for research funders then suggests ways forward from the pre-call stage to evaluation of completed research projects.

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Modeling as social practice

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Jeremy Trombley (website and biography)

By Jeremy Trombley

Modeling – the creation of simplified or abstract representations of the world – is something that people do in many different ways and for many different reasons, and is a social practice. This is true even in the case of scientific and computational models that don’t meet the specific criteria of “participatory” or “collaborative.” Scientists and modelers interact with one another, share information, critique and help to refine one another’s work, and much more as they build models.

Furthermore, all of these activities take place within broader social structures – universities, government agencies, non-government organizations, or simply community groups – and involve resources – funding sources, technologies – that also have social factors that are both embedded within and emerging from them. Understanding the relationship between all of these social dimensions as well as those of the problems that modeling is being used to address is an important task, particularly in participatory modeling projects.

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Do we need to discipline interdisciplinarity?

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

Imagine a team of researchers tackling global health inequalities, with a focus on sanitation. The team comprises epidemiologists and biostatisticians interested both in measuring the extent of the problem and designing intervention trials, engineers investigating a range of sanitation options, anthropologists examining the cultural aspects of sanitation, economists and political scientists documenting the economic benefits and looking for policy levers to assist in making change happen.
 
The team is working at national policy levels and with a range of target communities seeking to engender small business interest in promoting new sanitation options, as well as individual and community behaviour change. There is collaboration with major international donors and non-government organisations. The team has a talented and charismatic leader.

What the team does not have is access to the full array of theory and methods for synthesising the input of the different disciplines, along with all the relevant stakeholder knowledge. Nor does it have the ability to bring to bear all the different ways of teasing out and taking into account the knowledge gaps – the unknowns. Finally the team cannot tap into the wealth of information about how to provide effective integrated research support for policy and practice change.

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Fire together, wire together: The role of funding bodies in supporting interdisciplinary research

By Mohammad Momenian

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Mohammad Momenian (biography)

Our brain is comprised of neural networks. The repeated occurrence of an action or experience creates established networks in the brain. Some synapses in these networks are connected to each other more strongly than others. In other words, the more neurons fire together, the stronger they wire together. This neuroscience principle can be used as a metaphor to call attention to the role of funding bodies in supporting new interdisciplinary research.

At the turn of the last century, we witnessed the emergence of new interdisciplinary fields

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Let’s play: Co-creating award courses for designing, teaching, researching, and facilitating transdisciplinarity – Transacademic Interface Managers as an example

By Katja Brundiers and Arnim Wiek

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Katja Brundiers (biography)
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Arnim Wiek (biography)

Tanja Golja and Dena Fam concluded their article ‘Supporting academics learning to design, teach and research td-programs in higher education‘ with an invitation to other higher education and research institutions to share the state of play and their opportunities for collaboration. We are excited to respond to this call.

At Arizona State University (U.S.) various programs exist – across its schools and colleges – that allow students to work in transdisciplinary settings. These programs are avant-garde in many respects, e.g., pedagogical design, students’ learning outcomes, relationships with practice partners, implementation with real-world impact. Our experience with building a transdisciplinary and solution-oriented learning program at the School of Sustainability is documented in the article ‘Integrating Problem-and Project-based Learning into Sustainability Programs‘.

However, our examination of such programs internationally (PDF 840KB) shows that – with a few exceptions – many similar programs don’t entail a specific and scholarly-based transdisciplinary training module for students.

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Supporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?

By Tanja Golja and Dena Fam

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Tanja Golja’s biography
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Dena Fam (biography)

In their 2013 report on the significance of transdisciplinary approaches to advance scientific discovery and address formidable societal challenges (PDF 700KB), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) put out a call to “expand education paradigms to model transdisciplinary approaches” (p. xiii). Ought we be considering whether transdisciplinary approaches might reconfigure education paradigms, and if so, why?

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Where to publish? Journals for research integration and implementation concepts, methods and processes

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

If you have developed a new dialogue method for bringing together insights from different disciplinary experts and stakeholders, or a refined modelling technique for taking uncertainty into account, or an innovative process for knowledge co-creation with government policy makers, where can you publish these to get maximum exposure and uptake?

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