What’s required for researchers to effectively engage with local communities in international research tackling complex socio-ecological problems?
In a project involving Indonesian and Australian researchers working with local communities to restore peatlands in Indonesia, we identified three key elements for international collaboration with stakeholders:
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.
By Giedre Kligyte, Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer, Jarnae Leslie, Tyler Key, Bethany Hooper and Eleanor Salazar
How can universities leverage students’ perspectives to create pathways towards lasting organisational change in higher education? How can we conceptualise institutional impact and outcomes of transdisciplinary student-staff partnerships?
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:
Knowing each other
Concerting rules for participation
Creating safe spaces
Opening spaces for co-creating solutions
Taking solutions to practice (Moreno-Cely, et al., 2021).
Why is it hard to recognise the full value of a new idea, research finding or other innovation? Why do people fail to properly appreciate other people or things most of the time? Can this help explain why injustices persist?
There is no “invisible hand” that allocates rewards according to capabilities or performance, including ensuring that academic research or social interactions are recognised in terms of scientific or ethical merits.
There are three main patterns causing what I call “unjust appreciation”:
lack of intellectual development to determine values, merits and deserts (ie., just rewards)
cognitive biases and social biases, especially related to status and groups
tribalism, along with power and conflict considerations that rely on cost-benefit analysis.
What interdisciplinary competencies are required for innovation? How can such interdisciplinary competencies be implemented to foster innovation?
Keys to stimulating innovation are cultivating interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration to enhance collective creativity, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Integrating such diverse knowledge and skills is key to innovation.
Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies
By Irina Dallo, Jan Freihardt and Juanita von Rothkirch
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.
The concept of unknown unknowns highlights the importance of introspection in assessing knowledge. It suggests that finding our way in the set of known-knowns, known-unknowns, unknown-knowns and unknown-unknowns, reduces to asking:
how uncertain are we? and
how aware are we of uncertainty?
When a problem involves a decision-making team, rather than a single individual, we also need to ask:
how do context and perception affect what we know?
By Steven Lam, Michelle Thompson, Kathleen Johnson, Cameron Fioret and Sarah Hargreaves
How can graduate students work productively with each other and community partners? Many researchers and practitioners are engaging in transdisciplinarity, yet there is surprisingly little critical reflection about the processes and outcomes of transdisciplinarity, particularly from the perspectives of graduate students and community partners who are increasingly involved.
Our group of four graduate students from the University of Guelph and one community partner from the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, reflect on our experiences of working together toward community food security in Canada, especially producing a guidebook for farmer-led research (Fioret et al. 2018). As none of us had previously worked together, nor shared any disciplines in common, we found it essential to first develop a guiding framework for collaboration. Our thinking combined the following key principles from action research and transdisciplinarity:
How can academic researchers working in transdisciplinary teams establish genuine collaborations with people who do not work in academia? How can they overcome the limitations of their discipline-based training, especially assigning value and hierarchy to specialized forms of knowledge production that privileges certain methodologies and epistemologies over others?
We argue that to truly engage in collaborative work, academics need to participate in deliberate processes of critical unlearning that enable the decentering of academia in the processes and politics of transdisciplinary knowledge production and knowledge translation. What we mean by this is that academics have to be willing to acknowledge, reflect upon, and intentionally discard conventional avenues of designing and conducting research activities in order to be authentically open to other ways of exploring questions about the world in collaboration with diverse groups of social actors.
Can even the most well-designed participatory research really level the power relations between researchers and the relevant community? The key issues are who sets the research agenda, who drives the research process and governs it, and who interprets information. In all these aspects of research, the aim is for the community to no longer be ‘subjects’ but equal partners.
In this blog post, I outline challenges to achieving this mission, so that we can be realistic about what’s involved in trying to achieve equal partnerships. The difficulties identified are not proposed as tensions to be ‘solved’ but as dilemmas that can be articulated so as better to facilitate good practice, not reach an unattainable perfect state.
We know that reflecting can make a marked difference to the quality of our collective endeavour. However, in the daily busyness of inter- and trans- disciplinary research collaborations, time for reflection slides away from us as more immediate tasks jostle for attention. What would help us put into regular practice what we know in theory about prioritising time to reflect and learn?
Discomfort sometimes provides the necessary nudge in the ribs that reminds us to keep reflecting and learning. The discomfort of listening to the presentation of a colleague you like and respect, but having very little idea what they’re talking about.