Ten dialogue methods for integrating judgments

By David McDonald, Gabriele Bammer and Peter Deane

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1. David McDonald (biography)
2. Gabriele Bammer (biography)
3. Peter Deane (biography)

What formal dialogue methods can assist researchers in synthesising judgments about a complex societal or environmental issue when a range of parties with different perspectives are involved? How can researchers decide which methods will be most suitable for their purposes?

We review ten dialogue methods. Our purpose is not to describe the dialogue methods in detail, but instead to review the circumstances in which each method is likely to be most useful in a research context, bearing in mind that most methods a) were not developed for research, b) can be applied flexibly and c) have evolved into different variations.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills for generating ideas and reaching agreement should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key methods and concepts should they be familiar with?

The focus in this blog post is on generating ideas and reaching agreement, as well as recognising the “groan zone” between these two phases in a group process. Researchers will have diverse attributes and not everyone will be well-placed to cultivate the skills described here. Having an understanding of the skills can help in choosing the researchers best placed to undertake the stakeholder engagement.

Generating ideas: Brainstorming

For brainstorming to work well, it requires rapid-fire contributions, no holding back or self-censoring of ideas, and no discussion or criticism of the ideas proposed. It often involves a group of stakeholders (or stakeholders and researchers) sitting around a flipchart or whiteboard, with one person writing down the ideas as members of the group say them.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 7. Listening and dialogue

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key tools for engaging stakeholders should they be familiar with?

In the next two blog posts, I present key skills and tools that are essential for engaging with stakeholders. Understanding these skills can help teams decide who would be best among their members to be responsible for stakeholder engagement. Those involved in stakeholder engagement can also work to strengthen these skills to underpin other useful methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups and participatory modelling.

This blog post presents skills involved in listening and dialogue. The next presents tools for generating ideas and reaching agreement.

Listening to understand

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How informal discussion groups can maintain long-term momentum

By Kitty Wooley

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Kitty Wooley (biography)

What does it take to motivate competent professionals to show up for mission-focused conversation on their own time? What is the result? How can interaction, knowledge exchange, and knowledge transfer be achieved when some participants are meeting for the first time – especially if they’re coming from different kinds of organizations and hierarchical levels?

In this blog post, I describe the experience of Senior Fellows and Friends, a group meeting for conversational events that has kept its momentum for 17 years, over 91 meetings, and become an organic engine of opportunity for new and midcareer leaders.

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Listening-based dialogue: Circle of dialogue wisdom / Diálogo basado en la escucha: Círculos de diálogo entre saberes

By Adriana Moreno Cely, Darío Cuajera Nahui, César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez, Tom Vanwing and Nelson Tapia Ponce

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1. Adriana Moreno Cely; 2. Darío Cuajera Nahui; 3. César Gabriel Escobar Vásquez; 4. Tom Vanwing; 5. Nelson Tapia Ponce (biographies)

A Spanish version of this post is available.

How can marginalised knowledge systems really make themselves heard in collaborative research? What’s needed for research decolonisation to properly recognise Indigenous and local knowledge? How can power imbalances be bridged to ensure that everyone has an equal voice?

We describe the “circle of dialogue wisdom” as a methodological framework to reconceptualise participation, empowerment and collaboration. The framework has 6 phases, which should be seen as spiral and iterative rather than linear.

The six phases, shown in the figure below are:

    1. Knowing each other
    2. Concerting rules for participation
    3. Creating safe spaces
    4. Building affection
    5. Opening spaces for co-creating solutions
    6. Taking solutions to practice (Moreno-Cely, et al., 2021).

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Responding to unacknowledged disciplinary differences with the Toolbox dialogue method

By Graham Hubbs, Michael O’Rourke, Steven Hecht Orzack

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1. Graham Hubbs (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)
3. Steven Hecht Orzack (biography)

Have you collaborated with people on a complex project and wondered why it is so difficult? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Do my collaborators even conceive of the project and its goals in the way I do?” Projects involving collaborators from different disciplines or professions seem almost ready made to generate this kind of bewilderment. Collaborators on cross-disciplinary projects like these often ask different kinds of questions and pursue different kinds of answers.

This confusion can bedevil cross-disciplinary research. The allure of such research is its promise of solving complex problems by bringing together a variety of perspectives that when combined lead to solutions that any one perspective would fail to find. But combining different disciplinary perspectives also requires undertaking the tasks of translating different technical languages, reconciling different methodological preferences, and coordinating different ways of carving up the world. These tasks are difficult and it’s no wonder that cross-disciplinary research often fails to be truly cross-disciplinary.

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Collaboration: From groan zone to growth zone

By Carrie Kappel

Carrie Kappel (biography)

What is the groan zone in collaboration? What can you do when you reach that point?

As researchers and practitioners engaged in transdisciplinary problem-solving, we know the value of diverse perspectives. We also know how common it is for groups to run into challenges when trying to learn from diverse ideas and come to consensus on creative solutions.

This challenging, often uncomfortable space, is called the groan zone. The term comes from Sam Kaner’s diamond model of participation shown in the figure below.

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Skilful conversations for integration

By Rebecca Freeth and Liz Clarke

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1. Rebecca Freeth (biography)
2. Liz Clarke (biography)

Interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle complex problems is challenging! In particular, interdisciplinary communication can be very difficult – how do we bridge the gulf of mutual incomprehension when we are working with people who think and talk so very differently from us? What skills are required when mutual incomprehension escalates into conflict, or thwarts decision making on important issues?

It is often at this point that collaborations lose momentum. In the absence of constructive or productive exchange, working relationships stagnate and people retreat to the places where they feel safest: their own disciplines, their offices, or the colleagues who are on their ‘side’. As a consequence, prospects for meaningful collaboration and integration dwindle.

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Toolkits for transdisciplinary research

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

If you want to undertake transdisciplinary research, where can you find relevant concepts and methods? Are there compilations or toolkits that are helpful?

I’ve identified eight relevant toolkits, which are described briefly below and in more detail in the journal GAIA’s Toolkits for Transdisciplinarity series.

One toolkit provides concepts and methods relevant to the full range of transdisciplinary research, while the others cover four key aspects: (i) collaboration, (ii) synthesis of knowledge from relevant disciplines and stakeholders, (iii) thinking systemically, and (iv) making change happen.

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Critical Back-Casting

By Gerald Midgley

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Gerald Midgley (biography)

How can we design new services or strategies when the participation of marginalized stakeholders is vital to ethicality? How can we liberate people’s creativity so we can move from incremental improvements to more fundamental change?

To answer these questions, I have brought together insights from Russ Ackoff and Werner Ulrich to develop a new method that I call Critical Back-Casting.

Russ Ackoff, writing in the 1980s, is critical of organizations that focus on incremental improvements without ever asking whether they are doing the right thing in the first place. Thus, they are at risk of continually ‘improving’ the wrong thing, when they would be better off going for a more radical redesign. Ackoff makes two far-reaching prescriptions to tackle this problem.

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Integration – Part 2: The “how”

By Julie Thompson Klein

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Julie Thompson Klein’s biography

The “how” of integration focuses on pragmatics of process, with emphasis on methods. Toward that end, following the part 1 blog post on the “what” of integration, this blog post presents insights from major resources, with emphasis on collaborative research by teams.

Some widely used methods are well-known theories, for example general systems. Others are practiced in particular domains, such as integrated environmental assessment. Some utilize technologies, for example computer synthesis of data. And others, such as dialogue methods, target communication processes.

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Co-creation without systems thinking can be dangerous

By Gerald Midgley

gerald-midgley
Gerald Midgley (biography)

Why does the theory and practice of co-creation need to be informed by systems thinking? Co-creation without a thorough understanding of systems thinking can be deeply problematic. Essentially, we need a theory and practice of systemic co-creation.

Three key things happen in any co-creation:

  1. It is necessary for a diversity of perspectives to engage.
  2. There is the synergistic innovation that results from this engagement.
  3. The innovation is meaningful in a context of use.

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