I attended the Future Earth course on Transdisciplinary research co-design November 22-23, 2016 held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. I’m very grateful for the travel stipend I received fro Future Earth Norway, thank you!
I was keen on participating in this course/workshop since my current projects and research passions rest on the foundation of excellent transdisciplinary approaches and design. As a project-based temporary researcher at the University of Bergen, I often write research grants based on transdisciplinary perspectives (9 the past year!). Thus, my motivation for attending was to fill in some methodological gaps in my own transdisciplinary practice through engaging in the course and receiving new motivations, new theories and new practices and modes of working. I am an out-going person and really enjoy networking and interacting with the research community, so I was very glad when this unique opportunity arose to discuss transdisciplinary research design within the Future Earth network.
I’m a “newbie” to the Future Earth network. My first encounter with Future Earth was this past autumn when I participated in the Future Earth/IMBER workshop in Bergen September 1-2, 2016. There I met Wendy Broadgate (Global Hub Director, Sweden) and Leonie Goodwin (Future Earth Norway). That workshop was helpful for me to place my inter- and transdisciplinary work in the Future Earth context for the first time. I think my work on marine integrated ecosystem assessments and issues of GMO salmon work are examples of the potential for solid and excellent transdisciplinary co-designed research.
One of the current research proposals I’m a partner in is about the potential of a marketable genetically-modified sterile salmon. In the responsible research and innovation (RRI) work package that I lead in this project proposal, it is imperative that public engagement and stakeholder outreach occurs often and early in the process of this new biotechnology, and through different ways and modes of interaction. This is because the consequences of this technology, if successful scientifically and legally, will affect Norwegians (or consumers in export countries). My concern is that if this product would come on the market before a proper public dialogue takes place, the Norwegian citizens will would not have been able to have a say in this process. Then we run the risk of a technological lock-in that was never wanted to begin with.
New ideas, new practices
Through the introductory lectures by Florina Schneider and Tobias Buser, I gained new ideas on how to do stakeholder mapping and how to ensure the correct stakeholders are involved of the correct time. For example, the stakeholder power/interest grid was a new way for me to place stakeholders (Fig 1. left grid) and then analyze how to engage my project’s stakeholders (Fig. 1 right grid).
Figure 1: The power/interest grid allows for mapping stakeholders/actors in relation to their interest and power on a certain topic (left panel) and then relate those stakeholders to different types of engagement or involvement in the topic. We also did a role-playing game in which I volunteered to be the “Project Leader” and other volunteers were the stakeholders for the imaginary project I was leading. I had to physically place “my” stakeholders in a circle, where the stakeholders closest to the center were the ones I thought had most power/interest in “my” project.
Here you can see the video recording of the stakeholder power analysis role-playing game: https://youtu.be/IwjcPyyocvk?t=3h26m3s
It was fun because also the stakeholders had a literal “voice” and were able to speak and advocate for themselves and their significance in “my” project. A very nice activity to illustrate project/stakeholder relational design!
Another new methodological concept that I learned was the mapping of intensities of stakeholder interactions. Although it is intuitive and theorectically sound to involve stakeholders in research design, I had not thought of characterizing the nuances and strengths of interactions before.
I enjoyed hearing about other participants’ ideas and examples of have co-design projects, which allowed me to see the breadth in the topics that are relevant for co-design. For my philosophical taste, there was not enough time (or time at all) allocated to a critical look at transdisciplinarity, like “what do we lose” when we come out of the “ivory tower” into society, contrasted with the positivist “what do we gain?” arguments. I find this topic important when engaging and gaining credibility with natural and technical scientists who do not have a transdisciplinary background. If the workshop had a couple more hours, we could have pondered also these topics together.
In the feedback part of the workshop on the second day, I was very fortunate to have one-on-one discussions with Asher Minns (Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia) and Professor Emeritius Tim O’Riordan about my research design. It was great to be able to explain my very “Norwegian” topic of CRISPR salmon to scholars who understand and have practiced transdisciplinary and public engagement methods. One of the things I like most about transdisciplinary researchers is that they are not experts in the specific fields of the natural or technical science research, but everybody, by virtue of the common epistemological, sociological and political complexities, is able to engage on the common science-society level. Asher and Tim where able to understand my transdisicplinary challenge in the CRISPR salmon topic and gave great insights that I speedily wrote down to apply in my projects, including the dCod 1.0 project where I am currently part-time employed.
Future Earth: Filling the institutional gap of transdisciplinary practice
In my opinion, there is a lack of competency in stakeholder engagement, including best practices from social science and transdisciplinary research design in many Norwegian science institutions. This has been the case despite the acute need for these competencies and practices, especially in boundary organizations that are producing knowledge to be used by local or regional managers, like the Institute of Marine Research (Norway’s largest research institution). It wasn’t until mid-way through my PhD dissertation that I became aware of the importance of the social sciences and humanities in the practice of resource management. It has been an uphill effort to get funding for projects that could start exploring and implementing practical solutions for transdisciplinarity in marine science and resource management, and because of the renewed sense of importance I felt in this Future Earth course, I will not give up!