One university’s response to addressing complex real-world problems / Respuesta de una universidad para afrontar problemas complejos del mundo real

Community member post by Carlos Mataix, Javier Carrasco, Sara Romero and Marcel Bursztyn

A Spanish version of this post is available

How can universities more effectively address complex real-world problems, especially in sustainable development? What’s needed is not only disciplinary expertise, but also an ability to deal with systems problems involving wicked dynamic interrelations and a diversity of stakeholders, with varying levels of power to design and implement solutions. Researchers need to interact with a diversity of actors, inside and outside the academic community and to take into account diverse mental frameworks, languages, cultures and interests.

The Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at the Technical University of Madrid (itdUPM)

A growing number of faculty members at the Technical University of Madrid have sought to address this challenge, leading to the creation in March 2012 of the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM).

The Centre’s main characteristics are:

  • Its aim of contributing to the solution of sustainability problems through both collaborative research and postgraduate problem-oriented education, involving students from diverse disciplines
  • Voluntary affiliation of university faculty members and researchers to itdUPM, with more than 200 currently holding joint appointments or multiple affiliations between departments or research groups and itdUPM. A faculty member will undertake teaching duties for their department, disciplinary research within their research group, and action-focused research on sustainable development problems with members of the itdUPM network
  • Affiliates also include non-academic professionals and experts with a record of collaboration with itdUPM and its working groups
  • The Centre is organized as a network
  • Teams are not permanent and they are established as task forces of varying durations.

The Centre’s organization is represented in the figure below. The circles represent the network’s nodes:

  • Management Committee (19 lecturers and coordinators of Research Groups and PhD holders)
  • Standing Committees (working under the Management Committee to speed up processes and programmes)
  • Communities of Knowledge and Practices (communities focus on different disciplines)
  • Technical Team (fulfills the enabler node function composed by a group of individuals dedicated exclusively to itdUPM).
carlos-mataix
Carlos Mataix (biography)

javier_carrasco
Javier Carrasco (biography)

sara-romero
Sara Romero (biography)

marcel-bursztyn
Marcel Bursztyn (biography)

Continue reading

Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure

Community member post by Andrew Campbell

andrew-campbell
Andrew Campbell (biography)

When we think of research infrastructure, it is easy to associate astronomers with telescopes, oceanographers with research vessels and physicists with particle accelerators.

But what sort of research infrastructure (if any) do we need in order to do more effective multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research on big, complex, ‘wicked’ challenges like climate change or food security?

Some eminent colleagues and I argue in a new paper (Baron et al., 2017) that the answers include: Continue reading

Managing deep uncertainty: Exploratory modeling, adaptive plans and joint sense making

Community member post by Jan Kwakkel

jan-kwakkel
Jan Kwakkel (biography)

How can decision making on complex systems come to grips with irreducible, or deep, uncertainty? Such uncertainty has three sources:

  1. Intrinsic limits to predictability in complex systems.
  2. A variety of stakeholders with different perspectives on what the system is and what problem needs to be solved.
  3. Complex systems are generally subject to dynamic change, and can never be completely understood.

Deep uncertainty means that the various parties to a decision do not know or cannot agree on how the system works, how likely various possible future states of the world are, and how important the various outcomes of interest are. Continue reading

Going beyond ‘context matters’: A lens to bridge knowledge and policy

Community member post by Leandro Echt and Vanesa Weyrauch

leandro-echt
Leandro Echt (biography)

The role and importance of context in the interaction between research and policy is widely recognized. It features in general literature on the subject, in case studies on how research has successfully influenced policy (or not), and in practitioners´ reflections on the results of their work. But how does context specifically matter? Can we move beyond generic statements?

vanesa-weyrauch
Vanesa Weyrauch (biography)

To find some answers to these complex questions, Politics & Ideas and the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) embarked on a joint knowledge systematization effort, combining a literature review with in-depth interviews with 48 experts and policymakers, mostly in developing countries.

What do we mean by context?

Our first challenge was to define what we concretely mean by context. Continue reading

Learning to tackle wicked problems through games / Aprendiendo a hacer frente a problemas perversos a través de los juegos/ Apprendre à affronter les problèmes sournois à travers les jeux

Community member post by Claude Garcia, Anne Dray and Patrick Waeber

claude-garcia
Claude Garcia (biography)

A Spanish version and a French version of this post are available

Can we help the next generation of policy makers, business leaders and citizens to become creative, critical and independent thinkers? Can we make them aware of the nature of the problems they will be confronted with? Can we strengthen their capacity to foster and lead stakeholder processes to address these problems?

Yes. Continue reading

Scoping: Lessons from environmental impact assessment

Community member post by Peter R. Mulvihill

peter-mulvihill
Peter R. Mulvihill (biography)

What can we learn about the role and importance of scoping in the context of environmental impact assessment?

“Closed” versus “open” scoping

I am intrigued by the highly variable approaches to scoping practice in environmental impact assessment and the considerable range between “closed” approaches and more ambitious and open exercises. Closed approaches to scoping tend to narrow the range of questions, possibilities and alternatives that may be considered in environmental impact assessment, while limiting or precluding meaningful public input. Of course, the possibility of more open scoping is sometimes precluded beforehand by narrow terms of reference determined by regulators.

When scoping is not done well, it inevitably compromises subsequent steps in the process. Continue reading