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

By Alexandra Knight and Catherine Allan

authors_alexandra-knight_catherine-allan
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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Drawing lines between researcher and advocate?

By Alison Ritter

alison-ritter
Alison Ritter (biography)

Is it possible to be both a researcher and an advocate? Indeed, is there even a duty to be both researcher and advocate?

“Advocacy” has been seen by some in the academy as a dirty word. Oliver and Cairney (2019) distinguish between an ‘honest broker’ and an ‘issue advocate’, suggesting that advocacy crosses some line. Simon Chapman, who has championed public health advocacy, has noted that some people see it as a “fraught, politicised activity” (Chapman 2015), and “disparaged” (Haynes et al., 2011). In the comments on Dorothy Broom’s blog post Researcher activism: A voice of experience one “persistent idea” is that academic work is somehow neutral while advocacy work is political. Smith and Stewart (2017) nicely reflect the tensions when they contrast it as either a “disciplinary duty” or “political propaganda”.

These contrasting views on advocacy seem to rest on what is being defined as “advocacy”.

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Eight ways research institutes enable interdisciplinary research

By Paul Bolger

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Paul Bolger (biography)

One of the most substantial structural changes and investments to support interdisciplinarity within universities has been the widespread establishment of research institutes. Many have made the pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration a central goal in their research mission. Biancani and colleagues (2014) have likened research institutes to a semi-formal organisation occupying a plane between the formal university and informal research teams. Membership of the semi-formal organisation is voluntary and researchers and groups can flexibly come together for short or long periods and depart when no longer needed.

How do these entities establish collaborative communities, and create the conditions necessary for effective interdisciplinary research?

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Researcher activism: A voice of experience

By Dorothy Broom

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Dorothy Broom (biography)

In reflecting on my researcher-activist role in women’s health, I’ve come up with six tips that may provide guidance to those embarking on such a role. The lessons I draw can also be relevant in other fields of endeavour, in population health, environmental research and beyond.

Tip 1: Build your legitimacy with those you are aiming to influence and those you are advocating for

My academic research in the 1980s and 90s on the politics of women’s health was distinct from my feminist political activism. Prompted by intellectual curiosity, I developed a research profile that fortuitously prepared me to take on an advocacy role at a time of major policy foment.

My publications and conference presentations gave me legitimacy with public servants charged with policy and program development; while my personal involvement in feminist social action gave me a different kind of credibility with social-movement actors.

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Advocate or Honest Broker?

By Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

To mark the first anniversary of the Integration and Implementation Insights blog, we launch an occasional series of “synthesis blog posts” drawing insights across blog posts on related topics.

What is our social obligation as researchers to see our findings implemented? And how should we do it? When is it appropriate to advocate loudly to drive change? When should we focus on informing decision makers, stepping back ourselves from direct action? How can we know that our research is ‘good enough’ to act on and not compromised by our own values, interests, cognitive biases and blind spots?

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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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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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Three options for research impact: Informing, driving, triggering

By Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

As a researcher, do you seek to inform change, drive it or trigger it? Informing change involves providing the best facts and evidence, driving change means working to achieve a particular research-based outcome, and triggering change involves solving a problem that sets in train a chain of effects that go far beyond the research itself. They involve different skills and have different risks.

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