Community member post by Siobhan Bourke and Emily Lancsar
How can researchers interested in complex societal and environmental problems best understand and deal with uncertainty, which is an inherent part of the world in which we live? Accidents happen, governments change, technological innovation occurs making some products and services obsolete, markets boom and inevitably go bust. How can uncertainty be managed when all possible outcomes of an action or decision cannot be known? In particular, are there lessons from the discipline of economics which have broader applicability? Continue reading →
Could we overcome the challenges of embedding interdisciplinarity in the academic mainstream if relevant expertise were defined and recognized as a new discipline? What is this relevant expertise?
Here I consider team-based interdisciplinarity addressing complex societal and environmental problems and argue that it needs specific expertise over and above that contributed by disciplines. This set of knowledge and skills is currently poorly defined and recognized.
If contributing such know-how was an established role, it could provide a way of more adequately integrating interdisciplinary researchers into academic institutions. Furthermore, the time is ripe to codify that expertise by pulling together lessons from decades of experience. Continue reading →
How can decision making on complex systems come to grips with irreducible, or deep, uncertainty? Such uncertainty has three sources:
Intrinsic limits to predictability in complex systems.
A variety of stakeholders with different perspectives on what the system is and what problem needs to be solved.
Complex systems are generally subject to dynamic change, and can never be completely understood.
Deep uncertainty means that the various parties to a decision do not know or cannot agree on how the system works, how likely various possible future states of the world are, and how important the various outcomes of interest are. Continue reading →
One toolkit provides concepts and methods relevant to the full range of transdisciplinary research, while the others cover four key aspects: (i) collaboration, (ii) synthesis of knowledge from relevant disciplines and stakeholders, (iii) thinking systemically, and (iv) making change happen. Continue reading →
What can we learn about the role and importance of scoping in the context of environmental impact assessment?
“Closed” versus “open” scoping
I am intrigued by the highly variable approaches to scoping practice in environmental impact assessment and the considerable range between “closed” approaches and more ambitious and open exercises. Closed approaches to scoping tend to narrow the range of questions, possibilities and alternatives that may be considered in environmental impact assessment, while limiting or precluding meaningful public input. Of course, the possibility of more open scoping is sometimes precluded beforehand by narrow terms of reference determined by regulators.
When scoping is not done well, it inevitably compromises subsequent steps in the process. Continue reading →
How can we improve the often poor interaction and lack of genuine discussions between policy makers, experts, and those affected by policy?
As a social scientist who makes and uses models, an idea from Daniel Dennett’s (2013) book ‘Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking’ struck a chord with me. Dennett introduces the idea of using lay audiences to aid and improve understanding between experts. Dennett suggests that including lay audiences (which he calls ‘curious nonexperts’) in discussions can entice experts to err on the side of over-explaining their thoughts and positions. When experts are talking only to other experts, Dennett suggests they under-explain, not wanting to insult others or look stupid by going over basic assumptions. This means they can fail to identify areas of disagreement, or to reach consensus, understanding, or conclusions that may be constructive.
For Dennett, the ‘curious nonexperts’ are undergraduate philosophy students, to be included in debates between professors. For me, the book sparked the idea that models could be ‘curious nonexperts’ in policy debates and processes. I prefer and use the term ‘interested amateurs’ over ‘curious nonexperts’, simply because the word ‘amateur’ seems slightly more insulting towards models! Continue reading →