Pro-active learning to improve interdisciplinary processes

I am a firm believer in looking at interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange – or impact generation – as processes. If you can see something as a process, you can learn about it. If you can learn about it, you can do it better!

I find that this approach helps people to feel enfranchised, to believe that it is possible for them to open up what might have seemed to be a static black box and achieve understanding of the dynamics of how nouns like ‘interdisciplinarity’ or ‘knowledge exchange’ or ‘research impact’ can actually come to be.

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Posted in Interdisciplinarity | Tagged

Modeling as Social Practice

Modeling – the creation of simplified or abstract representations of the world – is something that people do in many different ways and for many different reasons, and is a social practice. This is true even in the case of scientific and computational models that don’t meet the specific criteria of “participatory” or “collaborative.” Scientists and modelers interact with one another, share information, critique and help to refine one another’s work, and much more as they build models.

Furthermore, all of these activities take place within broader social structures – universities, government agencies, non-government organizations, or simply community groups – and involve resources – funding sources, technologies – that also have social factors that are both embedded within and emerging from them. Understanding the relationship between all of these social dimensions as well as those of the problems that modeling is being used to address is an important task, particularly in participatory modeling projects.

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Read also: Facilitating Participatory Modeling

Modeling as Empowerment

Posted in Models, Participation, Participatory methods | Tagged , ,

Participatory Models Need to Include Cultural Models

Participatory modeling has at its heart the goal of engaging and involving community stakeholders. It aims to connect academic environments and the communities we want to understand and/or help. Participatory modelling approaches include: use facilitators, provide hands-on experiences, allow open conversation, open up the modeling “black box,” look for areas of consensus, and “engage stakeholders” for their input.

Cognitive anthropologists, including those who focus on human and environment interactions, developed the theory and method of cultural modeling in order to understand the cultural knowledge and values that individuals use to “make sense,” understand, and evaluate the world around them. This cultural knowledge also influences behavior, toward one another and toward the environment.

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Synthesis of knowledge about participatory modeling

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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Read also: Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure

Posted in Knowledge, Participation | Tagged ,

A checklist for documenting knowledge synthesis

How do you write-up the methods section for research synthesizing knowledge from different disciplines and stakeholders to improve understanding about a complex societal or environmental problem?

In research on complex real-world problems, the methods section is often incomplete. An agreed protocol is needed to ensure systematic recording of what was undertaken. Here I use a checklist to provide a first pass at developing such a protocol specifically addressing how knowledge from a range of disciplines and stakeholders is brought together.

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A better measure of research from the global south

… describe a new tool for judging the value and validity of science that attempts to improve lives.

The limitations of dominant research-evaluation approaches are well known1–5. Peer review is by definition an opinion. Ways of measuring citations — both scholarly and social — tell us about the popularity of published research. They don’t speak directly to its rigour, originality or usefulness. Such metrics tell us little or nothing about how to improve science and its stewardship. This is a challenge for researchers the world over.

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Posted in Research, Research methods | Tagged ,

The Moral Foundations of Educational Research: Knowledge, Inquiry and Values

This book considers what is distinctive about educational research in comparison with other research in the social sciences. As the contributors, all agree that education is always an essentially moral enterprise, discussion about methodology starts, not with the widely endorsed claim that educational research should be ‘useful’ and ‘relevant’, but with the attempt to justify and elaborate that claim with reference to its moral foundations

“This is a book for everyone doing educational research. It is not simply a routine provocation directed at positivists by a group of researchers advocating qualitative methods. The book makes a valuable contribution to the literature on the ethics of educational research by offering something more than opposition to the narrow utilitarian research agenda.” British Journal of Educational Studies

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Posted in Educational research, Research | Tagged ,

Linking learning and research through transdisciplinary competences

What are the objectives of transdisciplinary learning? What are the key competences and how do they relate to both educational goals and transdisciplinary research goals? At Transdisciplinarity Lab (TdLab), our group answered these questions by observing and reflecting upon the six courses at Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD levels that we design and teach in the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Six competence fields describe what we hope students can do with the help of our courses. A competence field contains a set of interconnected learning objectives for students. We use these competence fields as the basis for curriculum design. The competence fields were identified by reflecting on actual skills needed to conduct a transdisciplinary research process and by identifying elements from courses that have proven to be meaningful for students personally.

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Creating research value needs more than just science – arts, humanities, social sciences can help

This week we’re launching Making science for people, a series of articles that explore how humanities, arts and social sciences expertise is applied to problems typically corralled into the science and technology space. In this first piece, Rachel and Lisa set the scene.

Globally, discussions of research priorities by governments, universities, and many researchers position science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines at the forefront of innovation and industry engagement.

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Interdisciplinarity, Transdisciplinarity, and Beyond: The Brain, Story Sharing, and Social Organization

An apparent conflict between preferences for hierarchical as opposed to distributed organizations is evident in arguments about disciplinary and interdisciplinary organization. It characterizes as well a wide array of other arenas ranging from the biological to the political. In this article, parallels between biological, neurobiological, and social observations are explored in an effort to outline a general approach that may be useful in thinking about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary activities as well as forms of social organization in general. A key element in the approach is an ongoing individual and collective process of story creation, sharing, and revising. The article is offered both as a contribution to better understanding interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work and as an illustrative example of the potentials and problems of such work.

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Posted in Interdisciplinarity, Transdisciplinarity | Tagged ,