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.

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Implementation during a time of crisis: The critical role of trusting relationships

By Allison Metz

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Allison Metz (biography)

Are there lessons we can learn from the current response of service systems which have galvanized into action to meet the needs of children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic? How does the response of service systems affect our hypotheses about how change happens at scale?

In my professional role providing implementation support to public service systems, I’ve observed these systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with urgency and agility. The urgency is to be expected, but the agility has inspired me.

The agility runs counter to accepted wisdom in implementation science that implementation takes time.

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Strategies to deal with forced hostile collaborations

By Kristine Lund

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Kristine Lund (biography)

What can you do when a national funding umbrella organization asks you to add a new partner to a collaborative project, especially when that partner has a poor reputation for collaborating?

Here I share lessons based on my experience of leading a multi-million Euro grant, where two interdisciplinary language sciences laboratories, which had worked together successfully for 8 years, were preparing a bid for a 5-year continuation in funding. In the process of preparing that bid, our national umbrella organization suggested that a third language sciences laboratory that had strong links to neurosciences join the consortium.

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The role of persistence in influencing policy with research

By David McDonald

Author - David McDonald
David McDonald (biography)

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?

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Knowledge asymmetry in interdisciplinary collaborations and how to reduce it

By Max Kemman

Max Kemman (biography)

How can tasks and goals among partners in a collaboration be effectively negotiated, especially when one party is dependent on the deliverables of another party? How does knowledge asymmetry affect such negotiations? What is knowledge asymmetry anyway and how can it be dealt with?

What is knowledge asymmetry? 

My PhD research involves historians who are dependent on computational experts to develop an algorithm or user interface for historical research. They therefore needed to be aware of what the computational experts were doing.

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Trust and empowerment inventory for community groups

By Craig Dalton

Author - Craig Dalton
Craig Dalton (biography)

Community groups are often consulted by researchers, government agencies and industry. The issues may be contentious and the relationship vexed by distrust and poor communication. Could an inventory capture the fundamental sources of community frustration and highlight scope for improvement in respect, transparency, fairness, co-learning, and meeting effectiveness from a community perspective?

The trust and empowerment inventory presented below is based on the main sources of community frustration that I have witnessed over two decades as a public health physician and researcher liaising with communities about environmental health risks and it is likely to have broader relevance. Key issues include not being listened to; not being fully informed;

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Grant proposal writing for teams: Avoiding Frankenstein’s monster

By Lauren Gee

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Lauren Gee (biography)

Writing a grant proposal as a team has many pluses—a plenitude of viewpoints, a wider wealth of knowledge to pull from, and a larger pool of resources to help edit and finalize the proposal. Too often, however, a team-written proposal turns out as “Frankenstein’s monster”: a mess of disparate parts, thrown onto the page. Agreement is missing throughout, with no consistency in terms of vocabulary, style, or even tense. So how can a team work together, from day one, to write a successful, cohesive proposal—how do we avoid Frankenstein’s monster?

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Collaboration and team science: Top ten take aways

By L. Michelle Bennett and Christophe Marchand

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L. Michelle Bennett (biography)

What are the key lessons for building a successful collaborative team? A new version of the Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide (Bennett et al., 2018) provides ten top take aways:

1. TRUST
It is almost impossible to imagine a successful collaboration without trust. Trust provides the foundation for a team. Trust is necessary for establishing other aspects of a successful collaboration such as psychological safety, candid conversation, a positive team dynamic, and successful conflict management.

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Whose side are we on and for whom do we write?

By Jon Warren and Kayleigh Garthwaite

Jon Warren (biography)

In 1967 Howard Becker posed the question – to academics – “Whose side are we on?.

Becker was discussing the question during the time of civil rights, the Vietnam war and widespread social change in the US. He sparked a debate about objectivity and value neutrality which had long featured as part of the social sciences’ methodological foundations and which has implications beyond the social sciences for all academics.

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Kayleigh Garthwaite (biography)

What relevance do these ideas have now, in an era when academics and their research are becoming increasingly commodified? Academics are increasingly pressured by their own institutions and fellow professionals to gain more funding, publish more papers and make more impact. Questions of social justice and professional integrity are at risk of being swamped by these forces allied to unscrupulous careerism.

We argue that the question now is not only who academics serve but also who we write for.

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Taboo triangles

By Charles M. Lines

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Charles M. Lines (biography)

Occasionally, asking your collaborators about other people and organisations to involve in the joint work may make you aware of ‘taboo triangles’. These occur when currently collaborating people or organisations feel uncomfortable with or even unable to countenance a certain person, group or organisation being invited into their existing relationships.

It is worth exploring the reasons for and stories behind these warning signs or taboos. Are they valid? Are they erected by traditions that have become unquestioned rules? Are they in reality a barrier which seeks to restrict access to some form of power, influence or sought after resource? Are they based upon assumptions and preconceptions rather than reality?

Above all, are they worth taking the risk of challenging or even ignoring?

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Cross-cultural collaborative research: A reflection from New Zealand

By Jeff Foote

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Jeff Foote (biography)

How can non-indigenous researchers work with indigenous communities to tackle complex socio-ecological issues in a way that is culturally appropriate and does not contribute to the marginalisation of indigenous interests and values?

These questions have long been considered by participatory action researchers, and are of growing relevance to mainstream science organisations, which are increasingly utilising cross-cultural research practices in recognition of the need to move beyond identifying ‘problems’ to finding ‘solutions’.

As an example, I borrow heavily from work with colleagues in a partnership involving the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (a government science institute), Hokianga Health Enterprise Trust (a local community owned health service) and the Hokianga community.

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Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand

By Rawiri Smith

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Rawiri Smith (biography)

Collaboration is important in New Zealand as a method of bringing communities together to work on complex problems. A useful collaborative model is the Powhiri, practiced by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, for hundreds of years.

The formal welcome to an area in New Zealand is a Maori process known as the Powhiri. The Powhiri recognises the mana of all the participants. One of the most important values of the Maori people is manaaki, or caring for the mana of everyone. The Maori word mana means the importance associated with a person. The performance of a Powhiri acknowledges the importance of a person being welcomed to an area.

The deeper meaning behind the Powhiri process gives more meaning and indicates what should be occurring through the Powhiri.

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