Six lessons for implementing technological change in developing country communities

By Jonathan Ensor, Daniel Vorbach, Steven Johnson and James Moir

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1. Jonathan Ensor (biography)
2. Daniel Vorbach (biography)
3. Steven Johnson (biography)
4. James Moir (biography)

How does the provision of new technology, infrastructure or community institutions interact with the social setting, especially at the village community level in developing countries? How does this interaction determine the sorts of changes that are experienced? Given this interconnection between the technical and social worlds, what are the implications for the design and implementation of interventions? And what does this more holistic perspective suggest that implementing agencies should be considering and advocating for alongside their on-the-ground activities?

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Gradients of agreement for democratic decision-making

By Hannah Love

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Hannah Love (biography)

How does your team make decisions? Do you vote? Does the loudest voice usually win? Does everyone on the team generally feel heard? Does your team have a charter to provide guidance? Or maybe there is often just silence and the team assumes agreement?

The next time your team makes a decision, here is something new you can try! Kaner (2014) proposes using a gradients of agreement scale. The gradients of agreement, also known as the consensus spectrum, provides an alternative to yes/no decision-making by allowing everyone to mark their response along a continuum, as shown in the figure below.

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Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership

By Manal Affara

An Arabic version of this post is available.

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Manal Affara (biography)

What facilitation skills are useful for leading teams in cross-disciplinary projects?

Facilitation and leadership are usually considered to involve different skills, but in a recent article Carrie Addington (2020) examined how facilitation skills can improve leadership. I take this one step further to examine how facilitation skills can improve leadership of cross-disciplinary projects.

Collaboration is central to cross-disciplinary research, requiring facilitation to engage partners, unlock their potential, organize the project, and encourage continuous learning, as well as applying insights from that learning.

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Six lessons from students about transdisciplinary learning

By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch

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1. Irina Dallo (biography)
2. Jan Freihardt (biography)
3. Juanita von Rothkirch (biography)

What is an effective way of providing students with practical experience in stakeholder engagement? How can students learn to communicate and engage with community members on a transdisciplinary project, as well as how to create a space for those community members to reflect on their daily lives through interactions and discussions with the student outsiders? What makes it possible for students to broaden their horizons and to acquire new competences and skills?

We present our reflections on how the Winter School 2020 “Science meets Practice” run by ETH Zürich successfully contributed to our transdisciplinary learning process. We suggest there are six key lessons for those who want to design a successful course.

Lesson 1: A diverse and motivated group

A key element in fostering the transdisciplinary learning process was the diversity of the participant cohort. Not only were we from a variety of different disciplines and at different career stages, but we were also from different countries with different cultures. This variety enabled us to reflect about and approach the transdisciplinary process from different angles.

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Scaffolding transdisciplinary contributions

By Roderick Lawrence

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Roderick Lawrence (biography)

What do we mean by “scaffolding” and how is it used in transdisciplinary research?

Scaffolding is a metaphor transferred from building construction and used in pedagogy and teaching methods since the 1970s to assist learning processes. This metaphor has also been applied to multi-stakeholder processes that require collective decision making about complex societal challenges including conflictual situations. In this context scaffolding is used in deliberative processes, identifying those constituents that require facilitation, and selecting the appropriate methods and tools to achieve desired outcomes.

Scaffolding is increasingly recognized as necessary to assist bridge building between people, especially in transdisciplinary research and project implementation about complex situations and persistent problems that have no simple solutions.

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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. After an initial period of divergent thinking, where diverse ideas are introduced, groups have to organize that information, focus on what’s most important, and make decisions in order to move forward into the phase of convergent thinking.

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Improving mutual consultation among key stakeholders to optimize the use of research evidence

By Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

Processes to support the uptake of research evidence call for each of the key stakeholders to consider the challenges faced by other key stakeholders in making good use of research evidence. When stakeholders have the opportunity to consider perspectives other than their own, they will generally have a broader understanding of the problem space, and, in turn a greater commitment to co-creating prototypes for improving research translation.

Let’s consider a real world example in New York City’s public child welfare system.

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Research team performance

By Jennifer E. Cross and Hannah Love

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Jennifer E. Cross (biography)

How can we improve the creativity and performance of research teams?

Recent studies on team performance have pointed out that the performance and creativity of teams has more to do with the social processes of interaction on teams, than on individual personality traits. Research on creativity and innovation in teams has found that there are three key predictors of team success:

  1. group membership,
  2. rules of engagement, and
  3. patterns of interaction.

Each of these three predictors can be influenced in order to improve the performance of teams, as the following examples show.

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Learning through modeling

By Kirsten Kainz

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Kirsten Kainz (biography)

How can co-creation communities use models – simple visual representations and/or sophisticated computer simulations – in ways that promote learning and improvement? Modeling techniques can serve to generate insights and correct misunderstandings. Are they equally as useful for fostering new learning and adaptation? Sterman (2006) argues that if new learning is to occur in complex systems then models must be subjected to testing. Model testing must, in turn, yield evidence that not only guides decision-making within the current model, but also feeds back evidence to improve existing models so that subsequent decisions can be based on new learning.

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Eight institutional practices to support interdisciplinary research

By Margaret Palmer, Jonathan Kramer, James Boyd, and David Hawthorne

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Margaret Palmer (biography)

How can institutions help enhance interdisciplinary team success? We share eight practices we have developed at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) which was launched in 2011 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

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Jonathan Kramer (biography)

The center supports newly formed research teams from anywhere in the world to work collaboratively at its facility. The teams synthesize existing theories and data to advance understanding of socio-environmental systems and the ability to solve environmental problems.

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Five steps for managing diversity to create synergy

By Doug Easterling

doug-easterling
Doug Easterling (biography)

How can we address social, environmental, political and health problems that are too big and too complex for any single person, organization or institution to solve, or even to budge? How can we pool our wisdom and work collaboratively toward purposes that are larger than ourselves?

In theory at least, co-creation generates innovative solutions that transcend what would otherwise be produced by the participants acting on their own. In other words, co-creation can foster synergy.

To maximize synergy, a co-creative group should include participants who understand the problem from all the relevant perspectives. The more complex the problem, the greater the number and diversity of stakeholders who should be included in the process. A broader range of perspectives and ways of thinking allows for a richer and more comprehensive analysis of the problem, as well as more innovative solutions that address more of the underlying factors.

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Facilitating multidisciplinary decision making

By Bob Dick

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Bob Dick (biography)

Imagine this scenario. You are confronted by a wicked problem, such as the obesity epidemic. You know it’s a wicked problem – many previous attempts to resolve it have failed.

Suppose that you wish to develop a plan to remedy obesity. You have identified as many relevant areas of expertise and experience as you can and approached appropriate people – researchers, health practitioners, people with political influence, and so on.

You bring them together to pool their expertise—only to find that you now have another problem. Encouraging them to work collaboratively is more difficult than you expected. They talk in jargon. Their understanding is narrow. Their commitment is to their own discipline. Some of their understanding is tacit. Some of them are argumentative. And more. What are you to do?

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