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 institutions facilitate the serendipitous encounters that so often appear to characterise interdisciplinary careers? Is there an inherent hypocrisy in university leaders, research funders and policymakers claiming that they want to facilitate interdisciplinarity and then not creating the conditions that experienced interdisciplinarians say they need in order to foster this style of working?
Here I examine the importance of informal interactions, physical locations, the ‘small stuff’ and ‘slow research.’
Seeking to influence policy with our research is difficult. Sometimes we feel that it is too hard, we are not achieving our goals fast enough, and we really should give up and find easier ways of operating. However, persistence, rather than giving up, seems to be a characteristic of those of us working in this domain!
What do we mean by persistence? A good dictionary definition is ‘continuing firmly, especially despite obstacles and protests’. Does that sound familiar: facing obstacles to doing high-quality implementation work, and protests from colleagues who do not share our perceptions of the value of working in this manner?
Can we develop a shared understanding on how to engage in an interdisciplinary setting that will be useful in addressing current and future grand challenges?
Advice provided by interdisciplinary experts from 25 countries, across all continents, and with over 240 years cumulative experience (Kelly, et al., 2019) is combined here into succinct guidance that aims to empower researchers wishing to engage in interdisciplinary endeavors. The ten tips are also summarized in the figure below (focused on socio-ecological researchers).
What is co-innovation and how can it be applied in practice in a research project?
Co-innovation is the process of jointly developing new or different solutions to a complex problem through multi-participant research processes – and keeping these processes alive throughout the research.
Our experience has been applying co-innovation as a research approach to address complex problems in an agricultural context, however, the principles apply well beyond agriculture. Co-innovation is most suited to hard-to-solve technical, social, cultural and economic challenges. Such challenges have no obvious cause and effect relationships, as well as many different players with a stake in the research problem and solution. These include policy makers, industry, community members, first nations representatives and others who are involved in the research as partners and stakeholders.
A research consortium is a model of collaboration that brings together multiple institutions that are otherwise independent from one another to address a common set of questions using a defined structure and governance model. Increasingly consortia are also being joined in cross-consortia networks. How can connections be made across the institutions in individual consortia, as well as in cross-consortia networks, to ensure that such collaborations are more than the sum of their parts?
How can funding programmes maximize the potential of transformative research that seeks to make a real difference? How can funders support a more hands-on approach to societal challenges such as ecological crises? A group of Swiss transdisciplinary researchers and funding-agency staff identified 10 overlapping stages and their key ingredients. The stages are also described in the figure below.
By Helen Tilley, Louise Shaxson, John Young, and Louise Ball
How can research influence public policy so that it is based on the best-available evidence? What different ways of working are required of researchers? Here are 10 things researchers from the UK’s Overseas Development Institute have found helpful.
1. Know what you want to influence
Being clear about the policy issue, theme or process you want to change is the first step to effective policy influencing. Are you looking to influence legislation, or a change in government policy? You might want to encourage greater investment in a certain programme or approach, or a change in practice. You might want to influence perceptions or attitudes, or the language people use around an issue.
Collaborations with scientists have become a major focal point for artists, with many scientists now appreciating the value of building working relationships with artists and projects often going far beyond illustration of scientific concepts to instead forge new collaborative frontiers. What is needed to better “enable” and “situate” arts–science partnerships and support mutual learning?
Our research looked at the facilitation of arts–science partnerships through the investigation of two unique collaborative projects, developed at two geographically distinct sites, initiated by artist Keith Armstrong. One was enacted with an independent arts organisation in regional Australia and the other at a university art gallery in Sydney, Australia.
What’s needed to enable the integration of concepts, theories, methods, and results across disciplines? Why is communication among experts important, but not sufficient? Interdisciplinary experts must also meta-cognize: both individually and as a team they must monitor, evaluate and regulate their cognitive processes and mental representations. Without this, expertise will function suboptimally both for individuals and teams. Metacognition is not an easy task, though, and deserves more attention in both training and collaboration processes than it usually gets. Why is metacognition so challenging and how can it be facilitated?
What lessons and challenges about institutionalising interdisciplinarity can be systematized from experiences in Latin American universities?
We analyzed three organizational structures in three different countries to find common challenges and lessons learned that transcend national contexts and the particularities of individual universities. The three case studies are located in:
Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina. The Argentinian center (1986 – 2003) was created in a top-down manner without participation of the academic community, and its relative novelty in organizational terms was also a cause of its instability and later closure.
Universidad de la República in Uruguay. The Uruguayan case, started in 2008, shows an innovative experience in organizational terms based on a highly interactive and participatory process.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. The Mexican initiative, which began in 1986, shows a center with a network structure in organizational terms where the focus was redefined over time.