Twelve ways to kill research translation

Community member post by Lewis Atkinson

lewis-atkinson
Lewis Atkinson (biography)

Want to reduce the likelihood that your research will produce policy and practice change? Here are 12 anti-rules to prevent research translation.

Anti-rule #1: ONLY FOCUS ON YOUR PART OF THE PROBLEM. Avoid seeing the problem as a whole to limit the intervention possibilities. Acknowledge the translational “gap” but be ambivalent about who owns it. Contest it with others and perpetuate confusion with a range of definitions for what research translation means.

Anti-rule #2: CLOSE OFF THE FLOW OF INFORMATION AND KNOWLEDGE. Keep a tight lid on who is involved and what knowledge is seen to be relevant. Do not share your data or allow access to your sources of data. Minimise the rate of data exchange within and among various research and non-research partners.

Anti-rule #3: MAINTAIN IMPERMEABLE PROFESSIONAL & INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH BOUNDARIES. Reinforce the divisions between researchers and maintain competitive silos in the research sector driven by institutional rivalry, specialist societies and professional associations. In the name of research excellence, encourage cut-throat competition. Get groups to critique and challenge each other’s proposals, preferably in public forums, and then declare winners and losers.

Anti-rule #4: IGNORE THE CHANGING NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITIES THAT YOU SERVE. Advocate that “research translation” is something new and mysterious. That it is driven by research needs as primary inputs rather than the impact on the communities that researchers are generating findings to serve. Argue that research translation can’t be done as part of the normal scope of day-to-day practice and that it cannot be changed once it is in progress.

Anti-rule #5: AVOID ANY MEASURES OF EFFECTIVENESS OR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR TRANSLATION. Translation is someone else’s problem. Make sure that all researchers are part-time and without clear accountability and diffused responsibility for impact. Better still, practice public humiliation, making expectations for translation ambivalent and impossible to achieve. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.

Anti-rule #6: IGNORE THE COMPLEXITY OF MULTIPLE INTERACTING CONDITIONS. Avoid paying attention to ‘agency’ at the heart of individual and/or population behaviour, where different people and groups seek their own desired outcomes. Instead maintain that yours can be the ONLY outcome and therefore confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Announce big decisions in full-blown form. This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.

Anti-rule #7: MAINTAIN THAT TRANSLATION IS A LINEAR PROCESS. Maintain your commitment to the unidirectional view of translation. Neglect the value added that broader thinking about the problem and intervention can bring, including the advantages of multidisciplinarity to basic science and technology development.

Anti-rule #8: BUILD YOUR IMMUNITY TO CHANGE. Protect yourself against the nuisance of change. Maintain strict hierarchy and blame problems on the incompetent people below — their weak skills and poor work ethic. Complain frequently about the low quality of the talent pool today.

Anti-rule #9: WE ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING (WAKE). Be suspicious of any new idea from below — because it’s new, and because it’s from below. After all, if the idea were any good, we at the top would have thought of it already. Above all, never forget that we got to the top because we already know everything there is to know about this.

Anti-rule #10: FOCUS ON THE MEANS, NOT THE ENDS. Make the process of accessing funds and undertaking the research project and translation of results as difficult and complex as possible. Keep everyone very busy and skew the loading of incentives towards furthering their own personal ambitions rather than awareness of the impact of actions on others, unintended or otherwise.

Anti-rule #11: MAINTAIN A MYOPIC INTERNALLY FOCUSED VIEW. Do not scan the literature for any lessons about research translation because we are different and successful research translation can only be done based on research done by our people in our context.

Anti-rule #12: TRACK EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE TRACKED, AND ASK FOR IT AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Create complex structures, processes and reporting systems. Insist that all procedures be followed. Encourage researchers to find answers as soon as possible and at least cost. Favour exact plans and guarantees of success. Don’t credit people with exceeding their targets because that would just undermine planning.

Do you have other anti-rules to share? Do you have your own version of the anti-rules above?

Biography: Lewis Atkinson PhD is a global partner at the Haines Centre for Strategic Management LLC. He is a systems thinker and architect of strategic and social change built on a foundation of systems thinking. The anti-rules above are based on the 12 characteristics of traditional human dynamics and the anti-dotes can be found by using systems thinking. Several systems thinking resources can be found at: https://hainescentreaustralia.com.au/resources-books/

Assessing research contribution claims: The “what else test”

Community member post by Jess Dart

Jess Dart (biography)

In situations where multiple factors, in addition to your research, are likely to have caused an observed policy or practice change, how can you measure your contribution? How can you be sure that the changes would not have happened anyway?

In making contribution claims there are three levels of rigour, each requiring more evaluation expertise and resourcing. These are summarised in the table below. The focus in this blog post is on the basic or minimum level of evaluation and specifically on the “what else test.” Continue reading

Producing evaluation and communication strategies in tandem

Community member post by Ricardo Ramírez and Dal Brodhead

ricardo-ramirez
Ricardo Ramírez (biography)

How can projects produce evaluation and communication strategies in tandem? Why should they even try? A major benefit of helping projects produce evaluation and communication strategies at the same time is that it helps projects clarify their theories of change; it helps teams be specific and explicit about their actions. Before returning to the benefits, let us begin with how we mentor projects to use this approach. Continue reading

The university campus as a transdisciplinary living laboratory

Community member post by Dena Fam, Abby Mellick Lopes, Alexandra Crosby and Katie Ross

How can transdisciplinary educators help students reflexively understand their position in the field of research? Often this means giving students the opportunity to go beyond being observers of social reality to experience themselves as potential agents of change.

To enable this opportunity, we developed a model for a ‘Transdisciplinary Living Lab’ (Fam et al., forthcoming). This builds on the concept of a collaborative test bed of innovative approaches to a problem or situation occurring in a ‘living’ social environment where end-users are involved. For us, the social environment is the university campus. We involved two universities in developing this model – the University of Technology Sydney and Western Sydney University. We aimed to help students explore food waste management systems on campus and to consider where the interventions they designed were situated within global concerns, planetary boundaries and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Transdisciplinary Living Lab was designed and delivered in three largely distinct, yet iterative phases, scaling from individual experiences to a global problem context. These phases of the living lab, which work to integrate personal and professional knowledge and practice, are also shown in the figure below:

1. Entering the living lab was the phase where students were introduced to collaborative teamwork processes, expectations of joint problem formulation and critical reflection on their own position within the system being explored: ‘digging where they stand’. This meant helping students consider their relationships with the food waste system as consumers of food and producers of waste, as well as their potential impact as designers of interventions in that system.

2. Transdisciplinary learning was the second phase where students were introduced to the concept of research as a process of system intervention, as well as skills for co-producing and integrating knowledge in collaboration with diverse partners in the food system. For the Transdisciplinary Living Lab at the University of Technology Sydney this meant listening to, questioning and collaborating with relevant stakeholders in the system to investigate historical and current approaches to the issue, and exploring precedents for dealing with food waste in other parts of the world. Central to this phase was ensuring the sharing of knowledge among the students as it was produced. This meant organising a publically accessible class blog that can be viewed at https://wealthfromwaste.wordpress.com/ and weekly debriefs and discussions on insights gained.

Dena Fam (biography)

Abby Mellick Lopes (biography)

Alexandra Crosby (biography)

Katie Ross (biography)

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How is transformative knowledge ‘co-produced’?

Community member post by Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall

andy-stirling
Andy Stirling (biography)

It’s often said that knowledge to tackle big problems in the world – food, water, climate, energy, biodiversity, disease and war – has to be ‘co-produced’. Tackling these problems is not just about solving ‘grand challenges’ with big solutions, it’s also about grappling with the underlying causal social and political drivers. But what does co-production actually mean, and how can it help to create knowledge that leads to real transformation?

Here’s how we at the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre approach this challenge of co-production. Continue reading

Lessons from “real-world laboratories” about transdisciplinary projects, transformative research and participation

Community member post by Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

antonietta-di-giulio
Antonietta Di Giulio (biography)
rico-defila
Rico Defila (biography)

In Germany there has recently been a heated debate about the need for, and the justification of, so-called “transformative research”. At the same time, German funders are increasingly supporting research in “real-world laboratories” and these explicitly aim to bring about social change. We lead an accompanying research project (“Begleitforschung” in German) in a real-world laboratory program of research in Baden-Württemberg (see Schäpke et al., (2015) for more information). This has led us to reflect upon the relationship between transdisciplinary research and transformative research, and how this impacts on how we think about participation in research. We share some preliminary ideas here.
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