Toolboxes as learning aids for dealing with complex problems

By Stefan Hilser

Stefan Hilser (biography)

How can toolboxes more effectively support those learning to deal with complex societal and environmental problems, especially novices such as PhD students and early career researchers?

In this blog post, I briefly describe four toolboxes and assess them for their potential to assist learning processes. My main aim is to open a discussion about the value of the four toolboxes and how they could better help novices.

Before describing the toolboxes, I outline the learning processes I have in mind, especially the perspective of legitimate peripheral participation.

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Synthesis of knowledge about participatory modeling: How a group’s perceptions changed over time

By Rebecca Jordan

Rebecca Jordan (biography)

How do a group’s perceptions change over time, when members across a range of institutions are brought together at regular intervals to synthesize ideas? Synthesis centers have been established to catalyze more effective cross-disciplinary research on complex problems, as described in the blog post ‘Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure‘, by Andrew Campbell.

I co-led a group synthesizing ideas about participatory modeling as one of the activities at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). We met in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, four times over three years for 3-4 days per meeting. Our task was to synthesize what is known about participatory modeling tools, processes, and outcomes, especially in environmental and natural resources management contexts.

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Transkillery! What skills are needed to be a boundary crosser?

By Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Dana Cordell

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Dena Fam (biography)

What skills and dispositions are required by researchers and practitioners in transdisciplinary research and practice in crossing boundaries, sectors and paradigms?

The insights here come from interviews with 14 internationally recognized transdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, chosen from a diverse range of research and practice-based perspectives.

tanzi-smith
Tanzi Smith (biography)

Here we focus on:

1) skills for specific tasks such as facilitation of a meeting, crafting a well-written report, and communicating effectively across disciplines; and,

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Dana Cordell (biography)

2) dispositions, attitudes, orientations and temperaments of an effective researcher/practitioner, i.e., as a way of being.

Six categories of skills and dispositions

The core skills and dispositions of an exceptional transdisciplinary researcher/practitioner can be grouped into six categories, illustrated in the figure below.

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Collaboration, difference and busyness

By Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What are the ingredients of successful research collaboration? How can we make collaboration work when we are all getting busier?

One of the best guides to success in collaborative team work was produced by Michelle Bennett, Howard Gadlin and Samantha Levine-Findlay in 2010. Built on the experience of researchers at the US National Institutes of Health, they explored: preparing for collaboration, selecting team members, fostering trust, sharing credit, handling conflict and more.

An additional way of thinking about collaboration that I have found useful (Bammer 2008) is to consider it as a process of harnessing and managing differences.

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In praise of multidisciplinarity

By Gabriele Bammer

gabriele-bammer
Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What characterizes multidisciplinary research? When is it most appropriate? What does it take to do it well? Multidisciplinarity often gets a bad rap, being seen as less sophisticated than interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. But does it have its own important role in dealing with complex social and environmental problems?

Multidisciplinary research has two primary characteristics:

  1. different disciplines independently shine their light on a particular problem, and
  2. synthesis happens at the end and can be undertaken by anyone.

Unlike interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, there is no attempt to agree upfront on either a problem definition or on how the different perspectives will be brought together.

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